Tulsi Gabbard: An enigma with options

Just three years ago, Tulsi Gabbard was a Democrat representing Hawaii’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Just four years ago, she was vying to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. Just eight years ago, she was a vice-chair of the Democratic Party itself. Today, she is a serious contender to become Donald Trump’s running mate and, presumably, his successor as the leader of the MAGA movement and, possibly, of the free world.

What on Earth happened here?

Gabbard is a fascinating and accomplished woman who, to say the least, defies easy categorization. She has served faithfully in the United States Army Reserve since 2003, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. She was the first Hindu member of the House of Representatives. She was once “an emerging star” in the Democratic Party, as per Nancy Pelosi, but refused to vote for the impeachment of Donald Trump in 2019 and has been persona non grata on the Left ever since.

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So is she a progressive, a conservative, or something entirely different? That’s hard to say.

She began her political career opposing gay marriage (when it was relatively popular to do so) but over the years moved steadily to the left on LGBT issues. Nonetheless, she has angered progressives by opposing the participation of transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports. She supports a transition away from fossil fuels, a form of single-payer health insurance and the legalization of drugs. She took strong stands against most foreign interventions, including blaming U.S. policy for fomenting the war in Ukraine, but favors aggressive action against terrorists. She endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, after dropping out of the race herself (and after Hillary Clinton accused her of being a Russian sleeper agent).

Gabbard left the Democratic Party officially in 2022, and has endorsed many Republican candidates since then, but has yet to join the GOP herself. She has, however, appeared as a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and was even a fill-in host for Tucker Carlson before his exile from Fox News. For leftists, of course, any association with Fox seals the deal and proves Gabbard’s fanatical fascism, but, by contrast, most MAGA conservatives would regard working for Fox News as a sure sign that Gabbard is an establishment hack. Truthfully, she’s neither; what she is is … mighty elusive.

Will Gabbard be Donald Trump’s running mate? That seems highly unlikely. Both Trump and Gabbard are independent-minded and broadly anti-interventionist, but Gabbard, as a former Democrat, would hardly help Trump to reassure the GOP base, and, as a freethinker, she would be someone whose loyalty and predictability would be forever in doubt. What’s more, Gabbard may not have the profile or the experience (let alone the party backing) to serve effectively as president, in the event that Trump himself faltered. Elevating her so suddenly to the vice presidency, when there are plenty of seasoned Republicans ahead of her in line, might seem (and might be) reckless and irresponsible.

If Gabbard is unlikely to be Trump’s right-hand woman, there is every prospect that if Trump wins the election, she could end up serving in his administration, possibly even as secretary of defense. Alternatively, if she completed her migration into the Republican Party, she might find that the door to elective office stood wide open – albeit not in Hawaii, her home state, which is irredeemably blue, but in redder pastures on the mainland.

In the meantime, if Gabbard wishes to drive the knife a little deeper into Joe Biden and the Democrats’ backs, she might consider a run for office as early as 2024, with the goal of enhancing her national profile and contributing to the splintering of the anti-Trump vote, which is already quite far along, thanks to RFK Jr., Jill Stein and Cornel West. She could, for instance, aspire to become the No Labels candidate for president, or the running mate to said candidate. She could also be tapped by RFK Jr. to be his running mate. Finally, if she’s feeling bold, she could make our current five-way presidential race, probably fairly soon to be a seven-way race, with the addition of Libertarian and No Labels candidates, into an eight-way race! Why not? From Trump’s perspective, the multiplication of candidates is all to the good, and, assuming Gabbard refrained from gratuitous barbs directed against “the Donald” himself, her presidential dalliance in 2024 would be unlikely to sour her future prospects in a (second) Trump administration.

If all else fails, Gabbard can and should do what she’s already been doing: condemning the insufferable wokeness, intolerance and reckless overseas adventurism that have come to typify the modern Democratic Party. Such rhetoric would serve her own interests well enough. That it would also serve the country is a happy coincidence.

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