Hawai‘i’s beloved but enigmatic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-2nd Congressional District) has entered what’s shaping up to be a packed (and drawn out) Democratic presidential primary race for the chance to go toe-to-toe with Trump in 2020. Gabbard’s unofficial announcement came on Friday’s Van Jones Show on CNN following months of speculation. “I have decided to run and will give a formal announcement next week,” she told the host to the crowd’s applause, after being pressed on the question of her candidacy.
The statement came following two weeks of lukewarm press for Gabbard, including an unflattering piece in the The Intercept about her ties to Hindu nationalist groups and a tiff with Hawai‘i’s Sen. Mazie Hirono. The Jan. 5 article in The Intercept, titled “Tulsi Gabbard is a Rising Progressive Star, Despite Her Support for Hindu Nationalists,” identified the domestic progressive ideas espoused by Gabbard, but questioned her connections to authoritarians (especially Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but also Sisi and Assad) and Hindu nationalists.
“Dozens of Gabbard’s donors have either expressed strong sympathy with or have ties to the Sangh Parivar – a network of religious, political, paramilitary, and student groups that subscribe to the Hindu supremacist, exclusionary ideology known as Hindutva,” Soumya Shankar wrote for The Intercept, citing its analysis of Gabbard’s financial disclosures from 2011 until October 2018. “At least 105 current and former officers and members of U.S. Sangh affiliates, and their families, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gabbard’s campaigns since 2011.”
Days after the Intercept article, Gabbard penned an op-ed for The Hill, titled “Elected leaders who weaponize religion are playing a dangerous game,” which was interpreted as throwing shade at Hirono for the senator’s questions directed to Trump’s U.S. District Court nominee Brian Buescher. The questions included whether Buescher would recuse himself in a case related to abortion and whether he intended to end his membership in the Knights of Columbus Catholic organization to avoid an appearance of bias.
“We must stand together, and with one voice condemn those who seek to incite bigotry based on religion,” Gabbard wrote in the op-ed, adding “While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.”
Since (unofficially) announcing her candidacy, Gabbard’s reception has continued to be mixed. Of note, her past opposition to LGBTQ+ rights has been problematic to many.
“To try to act as if there is a difference between ‘civil unions’ and same-sex marriage is dishonest, cowardly and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii,” Gabbard is quoted as saying in a 2004 Star-Bulletin article. “As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists,” she added.
“I grew up in a very, kind of, conservative household… and held views growing up that I no longer hold,” Gabbard said regarding her LGBTQ+ record in a December visit to New Hampshire. “I saw first hand the destructive effect of having governments who act as moral arbiters for their people and that caused me to really deeply reflect and be introspective on the values and beliefs I had grown up with.”
In a statement to CNN, she added to her defense: “I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to help work toward passing legislation that ensures equal rights and protections on LGBTQ+ issues… if elected President, I will continue to fight for equal rights for all.”
In any case, this is just the beginning, and it seems Gabbard’s up for the fight. “Tulsi is under attack,” began her latest ad on Facebook and Twitter. Yup, we’re in for a wild year, folks.
Photo courtesy Flickr/Tulsi Gabbard
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