Tulsi Gabbard's one-time Democratic colleagues are both perplexed and unsurprised by her far-right pivot: 'An Elise Stefanik kind of turn'

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard left the Democratic Party before campaign with far-right Republicans.

  • Insider asked some of Gabbard's former colleagues what they made of her political pivot.

  • One said it was "disturbing," while others shrugged it off, suggesting it's who she always was.

As Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont strode through the Capitol basement, on his way to the last vote of the evening on the Tuesday following the midterm elections, he quickly recoiled when asked about a one-time political ally.

"Nope," Sanders said when Insider asked if he'd like to talk about former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an early supporter of his 2016 presidential campaign. "Thank you."

Asked what he thought had happened to Gabbard, who resigned a position at the Democratic National Committee that year in order to back the independent senator's upstart campaign, he dramatically threw his hands up as he boarded an escalator en route to the Senate chamber.

"Don't know," he said, adding that the last time that he spoke with her was a "long time ago."

In the course of the last two years, Gabbard has pivoted from being a somewhat unconventional Democrat — whose greatest controversy may have been her decision to travel to Syria to meet with dictator Bashar al-Assad — to a Republican in all but name, embracing right-wing positions on abortion and transgender rights and accusing Democrats of "stoking anti-white racism."

"To be honest, I find it disturbing," Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who served with Gabbard on the House Committee on Armed Services, told Insider at the Capitol.

A spokesperson for Gabbard did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

'I think it was who she was all the time'

In October, after competing in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and endorsing Joe Biden, she announced that she was leaving the party. Recently, she has become a Fox News contributor and has guest-hosted Tucker Carlson's show.

She went on to campaign in the final months of this year's midterm elections with some of the GOP's most extreme candidates, including Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc, and GOP House candidate Joe Kent, who attended a rally in support of January 6 rioters.

Moulton noted his own history of criticizing the Democratic Party, and his prior disagreements with Gabbard on policy, but said her support for extreme Republicans went too far. "Outright supporting election deniers and people who are dangerous for our national security — something that should be important to a veteran like Tulsi — is very difficult to understand."

"It's sort of like an Elise Stefanik kind of turn," he continued, referring to the New York GOP congresswoman who transformed over the course of a few years from a prominent skeptic of former President Donald Trump to one of his most dogged supporters in Congress. "This is bigger than national security, this is about morality in the Constitution of the United States, and supporting people who don't support our democratic principles."

Moulton described his relationship with Gabbard as "friendly and cordial," but said he hadn't spoken to her since her latest pivot. "If I thought I could change her mind, I would reach out to her at this minute."

But others expressed a mixture of disdain, dismissiveness, and outright mockery of the former Democratic congresswoman.

"There's nothing that she does that ceases to amaze me," said Democratic Rep. Kai Kahele of Hawaii, who launched a primary bid against Gabbard in 2020 before she announced her retirement from Congress. "I think it was who she was all the time."

"I'm not surprised," said Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, another former Armed Services Committee colleague of Gabbard's. "She's always shown the knack for opportunism for herself."

"I mean, that's her personal right to do," he said of her apparent party switch. "She does have some people who listen to her, and those Fox viewers will continue to listen to her, and life will go on."

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who Gabbard counted as a friend during her congressional tenure, contested the idea that she had changed at all.

"I don't really view it as much of a pivot," said Gaetz. "I view her current work as kind of a continuation of her bulldog attitude in Congress."

"There is a feature of this place that does silo people as Republicans or Democrats," he continued. "I think she's able to be herself maybe a little bit more."

Gaetz added that he was "more an admirer than a confidante," saying he hadn't spoken with Gabbard in a while.

Hawaii's two Democratic senators — Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz — both declined to speculate about what may be driving Gabbard's political movement, despite serving with her in the Hawaii delegation.

"I think she's home," Hirono said repeatedly when asked what she thought had happened, referring to Gabbard's political home. "Why do I want to even talk about her? No, thank you."

"She's a private citizen, and I don't comment on private citizens," said Schatz, adding he had "no takes" on the former congresswoman.

Read the original article on Business Insider