Opinion: Tulsi Gabbard may not be a Russian asset. But she sure talks like one

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is getting flak for receiving online support from Russian bots.
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is getting flak for receiving online support from Russian bots.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

Let’s play a game: Can you guess which member of Congress joined Sean Hannity’s fair and balanced airwaves Thursday to utter this specious line of impeachment process whining?

“I think that inquiry must be done in a very narrowly focused way, and it must be done transparently. I don’t know what’s going on in those closed doors. We as members of Congress don’t have access to the information that is being shared. And I think the American people deserve to know exactly what the facts are, what the evidence is that is being presented as the inquiry goes on.”

If you guessed smarm-spewing human Pez dispenser Matt Gaetz, you’d be wrong. In fact, if you guessed name-by-name down the membership list of Gaetz’s merry band of morons caucus, you’d still be wrong. (To understand why this defense of the president belongs to a particularly strong brand of idiocy, I refer you to this brilliant breakdown penned by my Los Angeles Times opinion teammate Jon Healey.)


These words belong to none other than Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Remember her? She snuck onto the Democratic debate stage this month as the low-polling 12th member. That’s right, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination stopped by Fox News on Thursday night to echo the muckiest, swampiest of Republican talking points.

Shocked? Don’t be.

She might be running as a Democrat. But she sure does sound like a Republican a lot of the time.

Don’t believe me? Watch for yourself:

In a publicity stunt that even campus improv troupe rejects would be ashamed of, Gaetz and crew stormed a closed-door deposition conducted by three House committees on Wednesday, crying foul and and playing MAGA conspiracy karaoke (and putting national security at risk in the process).

While it’s easy to see why spotlight-starved Republican politicians would so cravenly seek President Trump’s precious Twitter attention, it’s a little more curious to watch a potential general election opponent trying to score the exact same political points. Curious, of course, unless you’ve tracked Gabbard’s bizarre descent into both-side-isms and Trump-courting rhetoric.

Gabbard is a tricky candidate to pin down. Her domestic policy positions graft rather cleanly with Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s progressive platforms — in fact, she was one of Sanders’ fiercest supporters in 2016. She’s also a veteran, though holds staunch anti-interventionist views (which could be admirable in theory but in practice look like Trump’s blood-soaked abandonment of the Kurds).

She barely tracks in the polls, qualifying for the debate stage only after reaching the minimum 2%. But, somehow, her weird blend of policy positions stirred up a base of liberal-leaning internet bros who kneel at the altar of Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and the like — the type of voter who knows better than to vote for Trump but is both too annoyed with politically correct culture and too skeptical of Clintonian corruption to fully commit to the Democratic Party. That’s all well and good — primaries are all about different factions duking it out of for party supremacy. But they aren’t designed for this sort of apparent jersey-swapping interference, either. And after announcing last night she’ll forgo running for reelection for her House seat, things smell a little too much like a third party presidential bid.


Speaking of Clinton and third parties, Gabbard found herself in a new political feud last week, when Hillary Clinton appeared on Democratic strategist David Plouffe’s podcast expressing her Gabbard skepticism. After arguing that third party candidates helped Trump win in 2016, Clinton told Plouffe that she expects Republicans to promote a similar dynamic in 2020:

“They’re also going to do third party again. And I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far, and that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up. Which she might not, ‘cause she’s also a Russian asset.”

There has since been some consternation over who Clinton was saying was “grooming” Gabbard — Russians or Republicans. Indeed, Hillary vs. Tulsi is precisely the kind of intraparty nonsense that petrified liberals like me fear will lead to a Trump reelection. And loosely accusing opponents of being Russian assets could quickly devolve into an over-corrective post-Trump McCarthyism. To Gabbard’s credit, several primary opponents — including Sanders , Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang — have all come to her defense. And a veteran certainly deserves a little more consideration before being labeled a traitor.

But Clinton wasn’t entirely wrong, either. Gabbard is, in fact, a favorite of Russian propaganda machines. A general rule of thumb I think Americans should all be able to agree on is that whoever the Russians want elected president, we should not elect president. That seems obvious, but then, 62,984,828 citizens didn’t get the memo in 2016.

In addition, Gabbard has routinely expressed sympathy for a key Russian ally, Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad, whom she met with in 2017, even to the point of being openly skeptical of expert reports that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own civilians in Syria. While it’d be admirable to believe that over-eagerness to engage in any conflict abroad inevitably results in the tragic and inexcusable loss of innocent lives while recklessly bombing from above, that’s not exactly her stance, either. Check out this tweet from 2015, when she praises Russian President Vladimir Putin over President Obama:


That doesn’t seem like the rhetoric of an isolationist.

Perhaps most damning? Gabbard’s own rebuttal to Clinton:

This vague attack on the Democratic elite only serves to sow further discontent and distrust in the country. It’s certainly counterproductive to a party trying to oust an unbelievably bad president in 2020.

Here’s my free advice to the congresswoman: If you’re trying to beat Trump, don’t talk like Trump. That’s how you end up getting labeled as a Russian asset.

And, hey, she’s almost certainly not a Russian asset. Or even a Republican. She just needs to stop sounding like one.