Presidential Candidate Spotlight: Tulsi Gabbard

The Democratic paradox from Hawaii

January 16, 2019

Leading up to the national elections in 2020, we will be shining a “policy-positions spotlight” on presidential candidates as they announce their intentions to run. We aim to continue serving as a source of information on policy, news, and the political landscape of Washington, D.C. This first spotlight highlights Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii who announced on CNN late last week her intention to run for President in 2020. She stands as a paradox in the current Democratic party. 

Gabbard has been hailed as a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic party since her election in 2012 as the first Samoan-American and Hindu representative in Congress.  Domestically, during her tenure, Gabbard issued support for a clean energy economy and universal healthcare and opposed nuclear energy as well as cuts to Medicare and Social Security. In 2016, she publicly protested the Dakota Access Pipeline.  

With regards to her defense positions, she is a self-described hawk “when it comes to war against terrorists,” and Gabbard has publicly called for increased bombing campaigns to target terrorist groups in Syria, and expressed a preference for drone-strike military operations over ground wars. She is a proponent of a cost-effective military strategy, rather than the non-interventionism approach that has been attributed to her.

Her policy positions indicate that she would combine a preference for drone strike campaigns which already disproportionately target civilians in Muslim-majority countries with rhetoric which has earned her praise from white nationalist Islamophobes like Steve Bannon and David Duke. Gabbard was one of a slew of politicians and pundits who joined the Fox News press junket to call for then-President Barack Obama to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” and to erroneously claim that the rise of global terrorism can be attributed to “radical Islamic ideology.” In 2015, Gabbard was one of 47 Democrats to support legislation that would have made the refugee vetting process more restrictive, effectively grinding immigration from Syria and Iraq to a halt. She supported a resolution to prioritize immigration from non-Muslims in the Middle East.

Gabbard also has a history of closely associating with autocratic and nationalist dictators, an affiliation which has also earned her praise from politicians and pundits on the far-right, white nationalist fringe. Shortly after the 2016 elections, she met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a move seen by many as normalizing the dictator’s response to the years-long fight for freedom by Syrian citizens. A few months after the meeting, Gabbard defended the Syrian president against claims that he had orchestrated a chemical weapons attack against his own people. Similarly, Gabbard maintains close ties with Indian president Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who was banned from the United States in 2005 due to his responsibility in a series of violent attacks on a Muslim minority in Gujarat. In 2014, Gabbard called Modi “an inspiration to elected officials everywhere” despite his demonstrated hostility toward Muslim immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Based on her record, a President Gabbard would support a foreign policy strategy premised on the technological warfare campaigns which kill innocent people and, per senior officials in previous administrations, foment the very same animus which creates more hostility toward America. Additionally, her stances on issues such as Islamophobia and homophobia threaten individual civil liberties, both at-home and abroad. Gabbard has come under close scrutiny for her early work with The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, a political action committee run by her father which backed gay conversion therapy, encouraged homophobic rhetoric, and lobbied for the Hawaii state legislature to be able to deny marriage to same-sex couples.

Ahead of the 2020 Democratic primaries, Rep. Gabbard will have a chance to answer for her record on these issues and others. As candidates come and go, we will keep you updated with their positions on policies impacting American Muslims, and America at large.


MPAC is a 501c4 organization and does not endorse political candidates. However, as a national policy organization focused on substantive advocacy, leadership development, and building the political power of American Muslims, we highlight outstanding examples of public service from within our community and across the nation. Tulsi Gabbard’s career as a public servant advocate for all communities, a courageous trailblazer, and a dedicated public servant, deserves close scrutiny in light of the announcement of her 2020 candidacy for the office of the presidency.

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