On the first day of the Democratic debates, candidate Tulsi Gabbard surprised the nation with her graceful and consistent speaking. On a roster of 25 other Democratic nominees, the competition buried her. Candidates like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden stole the spotlight. But after the debates, Twitter, Facebook, and 4/8Chan were alight with the name “Tulsi”. In fact, she was the most searched candidate on the night of her debate. But what was really striking was the way those on the American political right jumped to support Gabbard.
Yes, Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic candidate who holds many of the same social and economic opinions as Bernie Sanders is getting praise from the right. And these aren’t just your garden variety neo-cons, it’s people on the far right. People like Paul-Joseph Watson, Tucker Carlson, and Jack Posobiec have raved about her stellar performance at the debates. 4/8Chan has even taken to calling Gabbard “Mommy”, in the same vein as C.H Sommers’ “Based Mom” nickname. This has led some left-wing news outlets such as the Daily Beast and The Guardian to imply that because she has these supporters, Tulsi herself must be equally right-wing.
These implications are a horrendous example of “guilt by association”. It’s a political and argumentative strategy and fallacy that equates the views of an individual with the views of the people they associate with. Tulsi Gabbard has made her appearances on all sorts of news outlets. She’s been on MSNBC, FOX News, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Joe Rogan Experience, and various others. The outlets range from conservative to liberal to anti-establishment. The news outlets calling her alt-right or even just right-wing have little real ground to stand on. Indeed, when we examine her voting history, it becomes clear that Gabbard votes along party lines on almost all issues. Her one exception is foreign policy, where she is a clear deviation from both parties.
One Issue Doesn’t Make an Ideology
From the time she announced her campaign in January, her main issue has not been healthcare, infrastructure, jobs, climate, or UBI. Rather, whenever an interviewer asks Gabbard a question or gives her a chance to speak to the public, she almost always steers the conversation around foreign policy. Her foreign policy, the headline of her campaign, is to get American troops out of other nations. She is a non-interventionist and the debate on Wednesday showed how truly tired the American people are of entering another war every fifteen or so years. This one issue, her non-interventionism, and foreign policy are what really got everyone –including the right– to fall in love with her.
Further, on a more shallow level, her performance at the debate was impressive. The far-right (and almost all extreme ideologies) tend towards an appreciation of the absolutely theatrical. It doesn’t matter so much that a figure’s ideas are good as long as he or she can present them in an appealing way. This is why figures like the alt-right’s Richard Spencer are so popular. Although the ideas are bad, he can loop supporters in with quick whits and catchy phrasing. This, however, is only a hurdle. When a person’s ideas are illogical or immoral, people must try to focus on the person’s presentation over their ideas.
Theatrics Aren’t All That’s Going for Tulsi
With Tulsi Gabbard, no one needs to exert this same effort. Her non-interventionist ideas are some of the best, so we can all just sit back and enjoy the performance. Really, the thing the alt and far-right have to worry about is reconciling their support of Tulsi Gabbard with their almost completely antithetical world view. When interviewers asked her leading questions, she answered them knowingly and with grace. Her takedown of representative Tim Ryan and his mistaking the terrorist group Al-Qaeda with the Taliban was also particularly “meme-able” and certainly added to her internet-based popularity. She wasn’t uncomfortable with this unorthodox but now common online behavior. It’s clear to everyone who sees her that she isn’t oblivious to the wants or culture of her constituents.
This is why more niche portions of the political spectrum have taken a liking to her. It’s why not only the right but the internet, in general, has taken such a liking to her. She and the online mediums gel in a very appealing way. It isn’t so much that everyone who likes her agrees with her or is even informed on all her views. It’s much more about how accessible she is to people who feel politically outcast.
Opposing needless war is something almost everyone who hasn’t buried their heads in the military industrial complex can agree on. War, unsurprisingly, kills people. It damages economies and cultures. American interventionism has helped create terrorists and radicals. No one wants these things to happen unless they’re receiving handsome commissions when they destroy hospitals with women and children inside. It’s unreasonable to expect the right, however radical, to oppose such an admirable position that helps forward some of their goals. Although keeping people safe is certainly a motivation for most supporters of Gabbard, it’d be dishonest to pretend that those who are a part of the alt-right do not have ulterior motives in supporting her non-interventionism.
Right-wingers Don’t Like Gabbard for Her Social Programs
The alt-right and their various factions and code names don’t support Tulsi because they care deeply about the plight of Middle Eastern children. Rather, withdrawing troops from foreign nations is part of their ultimate goal of militant isolationism. Tulsi will obviously not advance their goals of record-tight borders or profiling of immigrants. And, her reasoning for pushing non-interventionism is vastly different from that of the alt-right. What attracts the alt-right to national abstaining from war is different from what attracts the general public to it. The alt-right sees it as one step to further their ultimate goal while to Tulsi and her base, it’s the ultimate goal.
If Gabbard were truly alt-right, far-right, a nationalist, or any other flavor of very right-wing, her biggest goal would not be to simply withdraw troops. Her goals would involve a bigger picture. She would be much more of a radical. Gabbard would have a longer list of goals relating to not just non-interventionism, but soft isolationism. If she really were some sort of Hawaiian fascist, that is. What the fascists want, what the alt-right wants, what extremists want, is a radical shift to how the world operates. They support Tulsi because they know only what they’ll get anything they want is to elect it piece by piece. And because of how our nation works on a state and societal level, they will likely never achieve their goals.
Tulsi Gabbard: Party-line Democrat with Anti-War Leanings
This practice of lumping people together based on one shared opinion, policy, or goal is one of the most manipulative journalistic practices. It’s so dangerous and so effective because there is some element of truth to it. It is true that the far-right has shown support for at least one of Gabbard’s talking points. It’s true, but it’s not exactly relevant in any important way.
To brand Tulsi right-wing because of some of her pseudo-supporters is to act illogically. It’s no more correct to brand Tulsi Gabbard alt-right because of this than it is to brand her a Nazi. Because, well, the Nazis also drank water. People do not necessarily have to disclose their ideology for people to be able to tell. They may also lie about their ideology. However, in order to assume a person’s worldview, there must be substantial evidence to support it. Otherwise, you might as well say we’re all plants because we live on planet Earth.
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