Tulsi Gabbard Prepares for Post-Congress Career With Pivot to the Right

The Hawaii congresswoman returns to the social conservatism that defined her early political career

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard this week introduced two bills calculated to appeal to social conservatives, a move that raises questions about the outgoing congresswoman’s political future after she leaves office in January.

Tulsi Gabbard in 2013. (Photo: AFGE)

The Hawaii Democrat’s proposed bills, neither of which stands a chance of being passed, take aim at the right to choose and gender identity. Both are frequent targets of the right.

Wednesday’s H.R. 8923 would “ensure a health care practitioner exercises the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion,” protections that already exist through Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002.

Thursday’s “Protect Women’s Sports Act of 2020,” introduced with Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), would change Title IX to bar trans women from participating in women’s sports in schools. “Our legislation protects Title IX’s original intent which was based on the general biological distinction between men and women athletes based on sex,” Gabbard said in a statement.

As I’ve reported—and as is well documented—right-wing positions are not new for Gabbard. The congresswoman’s closeness to right-wing groups in India, past Islamophobic comments, and a host of other issues raise genuine questions about her political goals.

While Gabbard has been a supporter of gay rights since 2012, the shift came after over a decade of advocating for just the opposite:

[In 2004] Gabbard protested against a bill advocating civil unions during her tenure in the Hawaii Congress, holding up signs decrying the proposition. The bill eventually stalled.

Gabbard replied to a request for comment on her father’s connections with cult leader Chris Butler in 2004 with an oddly worded email accusing Honolulu Magazine of a homosexual conspiratorial attempt to discredit her father.

“I smell a skunk,” [Gabbard] wrote. “It’s clear to me that you’re acting as a conduit for The Honolulu Weekly and other homosexual extremist supporters of Ed Case.”

That history, and this week’s bills, add to suspicions that Gabbard is pivoting to the right as she leaves Congress.

One school of thought holds that Gabbard intends to become a right-wing media personality. But the congresswoman is unlikely to be content with playing at being a Fox News liberal. She’s only 39 and has already run for president once. Media fame is a step down.

It’s more likely that Gabbard is laying the groundwork for a political future on the right. Right wing politicians throwing chum to social conservatives is usually a sign that a run for higher office is coming.

With a fractious GOP still trembling in fear of a President Donald Trump who won’t fade away after he leaves office and a large number of politically adrift people in the US feeling that neither party represents them, Gabbard has an avenue to electoral success from the right.

Whether or not she takes it is unclear. But it’s hard to read her actions this week as anything other than setting up for the next step in the process.