Elections

Tulsi Gabbard, touting foreign policy experience, struggles to lift off debate stage

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard discusses her views on Iran

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) discusses her views on Iran during the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on June 26, 2019.
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Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) discusses her views on Iran during the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on June 26, 2019.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard wanted to make the case Wednesday night that she would be the strongest commander in chief among the Democrats’ 2020 presidential contenders.

To a degree, she did — but Gabbard, fighting against the debate clock and nine opponents, fought to define her platform on several other issues with limited time.

Throughout the night, the Army major and politician burnished her foreign policy credentials above all else — she answered her first question on how she would ensure women are fairly paid by instead discussing her overall platform and ongoing service in the Hawaii National Guard.

“I enlisted in the Army National Guard after the al-Qaida terror attacks on 9/11 so I could go after those who had attacked us on that day,” she said. “I know the importance of our national security, as well as the terribly high cost of war. And for too long, our leaders have failed us, taking us from one regime-change war to the next, leading us into a new cold war and arms race, costing us trillions of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars and countless lives.”

On healthcare, Gabbard said she would support “Medicare for all,” though she said she would take a look at “some form of a role of private insurance.”

The bulk of Gabbard’s nearly seven minutes was spent elaborating on her anti-interventionist policy. On the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Gabbard took the opportunity to criticize President Donald Trump “and his chicken hawk Cabinet [who] have led us to the brink of war with Iran,” and called for re-entering a deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and waging war.

Gabbard also tangled notably with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio over the nation’s military involvement in Afghanistan, after Ryan said the country should stay “engaged” in the conflict there.

“Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan?” she said. “As a soldier, I will tell you, that answer is unacceptable.”

Ryan contended that “if the United States doesn’t engage, the Taliban will grow,” to which Gabbard said the Taliban predated and would outlast U.S. involvement regardless of the length of its stay.

Gabbard also fended off a question about her past anti-LGBTQ stance before she ran for Congress, as a young candidate for the state House in Hawaii. She sad many voters might understand she “grew up in a socially conservative home” and held views “I no longer hold today.” She also referenced, again, her military service, noting she served with LGBTQ soldiers and that she would have given her life for them to protect them as they would have done for her.

But Gabbard, who was in poll rankings and stage position on the edge among the primary contenders, also struggled with the same obstacle many of her rivals faced Wednesday: the debate clock. According to a Washington Post ranking of time allotted, Gabbard ranked third to last in the time she had to speak, tied with John Delaney.

It didn’t diminish interest in Gabbard’s campaign online: She became one of the top-searched candidates on Google during the debate.

In a tweet from Gabbard’s account toward the end of the night, her sister complained about the time disparity and the obstacles it posed: “It’s clear who MSNBC wants to be president: Elizabeth Warren. They’re giving her more time than all the other candidates combined. They aren’t giving any time to Tulsi at all.”

Gabbard said after the debate that she had not seen the tweet from her sister, acknowledging only that she had wanted more time to articulate her views. She said, smiling in the glare of television lights, that she was looking forward to the next debates, which will be held in September.

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