The Democratic Party once considered her a rising star - how did they lose her?
Tulsi Gabbard has been a de facto outsider within the Democratic Party for a long time. Now, she’s finally made it official, leaving the party she served first in the Hawaii State House and then in Congress for eight years. Tulsi also announced a new Substack and a podcast as her next moves.
Gabbard’s path to this moment was marked by fascinating developments within the culture wars that came to characterize the Obama-Biden era of the Democratic Party. Once viewed as a rising star within the ranks — she was the first Hindu woman and the first female combat veteran in Congress — she was unanimously elected as vice chair of the party in 2013. But her clashes with Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz over the DNC’s perceived (and, as we know now in part thanks to WikiLeaks, accurate) embrace of Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary ultimately led to Gabbard resigning from her role to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016.
At the time, few would have foreseen that Gabbard would be accused of being a stalking horse for Republicanism within Democratic ranks. As someone who entered politics as an environmentalist, she came off initially as more of an anti-war Democratic Socialist with concerns that the Democrats were embracing neoliberal globalism instead of the concerns of working people. Back then, she seemed more Squad-adjacent than likely to end up as Joe Rogan’s favorite politician.
So what changed? Two major expressions of her views in 2019 indicate how the Democratic Party and Gabbard grew apart.
The first was a surprising op-ed she published in the Hill in January 2019, directing pointed criticism at Senate Democrats, including Judiciary chair Dianne Feinstein, over the imposition of religious tests on judicial nominees — and in particular for membership in the Knights of Columbus. Invoking JFK, Al Smith and the Catholic tests faced by Democrats in the past, Gabbard’s op-ed was widely shared by religious groups of a conservative bent. It was interpreted as a criticism of Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono, both of whom had recently raised the issue of a nominee’s membership in the Knights as possibly barring him from approval. The nominee, Brian Buescher, was ultimately approved on a party-line vote.