Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is riding off into the sunset and an uncertain future beyond Washington’s horizon.
Her quixotic presidential run pitted her against her Democratic Party’s establishment and left her with more questions than clear prospects for a political future.
Her anti-war platform and push to shake up the party’s internal politics won fans both among liberals and libertarian-minded voters. And yet, the Hawaii Democrat’s independent streak left her few political allies as she exits Congress next month, having forfeited a reelection run in her quest for the White House.
“I think she’s one of the most difficult politicians to predict,” said Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “She had always been a pretty independent voice.”
“I think she just highlighted that more in the campaign because that was one of her main appeals, that she was critical of the party and appeals to that unusual coalition of Democrats who were opposed to foreign interventions.”
Speculation abounds about a possible 2024 presidential run. There are already “Tulsi 2024” T-shirts for sale and a Tulsi 2024 Facebook group with more than 23,000 members. In the meantime, other politicos look for Ms. Gabbard to score a gig as a TV news commentator or maybe her own show.
She’s mum about her plans.
Ms. Gabbard, who joined the Hawaii National Guard in 2003 and served in the Iraq War, was first elected to the House in 2012, making her one of the first two female combat veterans in Congress.
She came to Congress as a bright up-and-comer for a party that boasts of its commitment to cultivating women as leaders. At the time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Ms. Gabbard as “an emerging star.”
Ms. Gabbard, who continues to serve in the National Guard, made veterans affairs and anti-war foreign policy her signature issues on Capitol Hill.
She also aligned herself with the party’s left wing. In 2016, she endorsed Sen. Bernard Sanders, a self-described socialist who has led the far-left transformation of the Democratic Party.
However, it was the libertarians that she most inspired during her presidential campaign.
“One of the reasons they locked her out of the debates, even though she was qualified, was because she threatened the idea that Democrats are the anti-war party,” said Daniel Fishman, executive director of the Libertarian Party. “Joe Biden and mainstream Democrats are in lockstep with the military-industrial complex.”
Indeed, it was one of her strongest arguments during the presidential primary debates. Some of her most memorable moments during the campaign came from sparring with Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who is now the presumed vice president-elect, and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
At a July debate, Ms. Gabbard hit Ms. Harris hard on her record as attorney general, arguing she wasn’t the progressive candidate she claimed to be.
The feud with Mrs. Clinton went much deeper and the former first lady accused Ms. Gabbard of being a “Russian asset” sowing discord in the Democratic primary.
“It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me,” Ms. Gabbard aimed at Mrs. Clinton at the time. “Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.”
Ms. Gabbard’s run failed to gain significant momentum. She always trailing at the back of the pack and suspended her campaign in March.
Breaking from her party endeared Ms. Gabbard with a new sect of the electorate, but it hurt her prospects with her party and her constituents back home.
Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, said Ms. Gabbard is on “shaky ground” with the party.
In particular, it’s because of her pointed attacks of Ms. Harris during the primary as well as her controversial stances on dictators such as Bashar Assad of Syria, who she met with in 2017.
Ms. Gabbard extended her congratulations to presumed President-elect Joseph R. Biden and also demanded that he follow through on his promise to reach across the aisle.
“Joe, congratulations on your election. You promised to be president not just of those who voted for you but for those who didn’t. Now it is time for unity & healing. You have the grave responsibility to do your best to make that happen. May God be with you in this noble endeavor,” she said.
Even more than losing love from Democrats, Ms. Gabbard has hurt her base back home in Hawaii, where political experts there said constituents felt like her priorities shifted during the campaign.
“Most people couldn’t figure out what she was doing. And I don’t think she ever tried really hard to talk to the people of Hawaii about what she was really doing,” said Neal Milner, professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii. “She made a choice to run for president and that’s obviously a national focus, and so that’s where her focus went. And she kind of disappeared from here.”
Ms. Gabbard is also reportedly leaving Hawaii and transferring for National Guard duty in California, Hawaii’s Star-Bulletin reported last month.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Ms. Gabbard has been vocal about policies in Hawaii, harshly criticizing the state’s Department of Health for its response to the outbreak and slow rollout of contact tracing, which Mr. Milner said won some support home.
For the next few weeks, Ms. Gabbard will be wrapping up her congressional business and clearing out her office on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Kai Kahele, a fellow Democrat, will take over the seat.
While the Democrats are distant from Ms. Gabbard, the Libertarian Party is waiting with open arms, if she can embrace more of its agenda.
“We’d love to see her become more libertarian,” Mr. Fishman said. “As we say, all your freedoms all the time. When she does that, she’ll be ready to join the Libertarian Party.”