Under fire from Hillary, Tulsi Gabbard says she won’t run as Independent

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Rep Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has said she will not launch an independent bid for the presidency after former secretary of state Hillary Clinton claimed that Russia was grooming her for such a run to split the vote and help President Donald Trump get re-elected in 2020, The Hill website reported.

Gabbard, one of the laggards in the extra-large field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, called Clinton the “personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party” and said she was being attacked for opposing “regime-change wars”.

Curiously, President Trump was among those who rallied to Gabbard’s defense, giving the low-polling candidate a publicity boost. “[Clinton is] accusing everyone of being a Russian agent,” Trump said Monday. “These people are sick. There’s something wrong with them.”

Some Democrats were irritated by Clinton’s remarks, saying there is no evidence to show that the Samoan-American Gabbard is a Russian asset and accusing the party’s 2016 presidential nominee of elevating a candidate many in the party detest.

The 38-year-old member of the Hawaiian Army National Guard has rubbed Democrats the wrong way by accusing the party leadership of bias and meeting Syria’s President Bashar Assad, whose government is propped up by Russian forces.

Many see her as a fringe candidate with peculiar views running a strange campaign that has drawn supportive remarks from controversial right-wing figures like the pro-Trump commentator Mike Cernovich and former Klansman David Duke.

While Gabbard has rejected Duke’s support, she continues to annoy Democrats by appearing for interviews with Tucker Carlson of Fox News. An investigative report in an Indian news magazine also claimed she was being groomed by the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to be its asset in Washington.

Clinton’s insinuation that Gabbard may be an unwitting Russian asset is a worry some party insiders have been voicing in private. Many are still bitter that Green Party candidate Jill Stein may have drawn votes away from Clinton in key battleground states in 2016.

But by attacking Gabbard publicly, Clinton may have reignited divisions between establishment Democrats and the outsiders who propelled Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) in his improbable bid for the nomination in 2016.

“Any time Hillary Clinton dips her name into the 2020 election it is horrible for us,” said one Democratic fundraiser. “It helps Trump when Democrats are fighting with one another and this controversy just reopens those old wounds.”

The allegations also put the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in a spot as it seeks to balance concerns about foreign government interference while remaining neutral in the primary.

Gabbard, the first Hindu to run for president, has accused the DNC of rigging the primary with polling and fundraising requirements that have made it difficult for her and some others to qualify for the debates.

To be fair, the DNC has been forced to set qualifying norms to narrow down an unwieldy field that had as many as two dozen candidates when the campaign began earlier this year.

The DNC refused to comment on the current row, but it has stood by its qualifying requirements, saying it has been transparent about the thresholds.

Gabbard has not yet qualified for the November debate, though she hit the threshold Monday in the first of four qualifying polls she would need to make the stage next month.

An official also said the DNC has invested heavily to secure its networks and monitor online disinformation about the Democratic contenders.

Allies of Sen Kamala Harris (D-Calif) have joined the chorus against Gabbard, pointing to what they say is suspicious online activity that amplified Gabbard’s attacks on Harris’s record as a prosecutor.

There is no evidence that Gabbard’s campaign is working with Russia, and experts note that online Russian bot activity is often aimed at sowing broad divisions across many different groups in the US.

Gabbard’s defenders view the attacks from Harris as retribution from their debate clash and say the attacks from Clinton are retaliation against Gabbard for resigning as vice-chair of the DNC in 2016 to protest against the party’s treatment of Sanders.

“Even for a Clinton, this is the worst kind of McCarthyite slander, perhaps conjured up with no evidence over too many glasses of Chardonnay with her best friends and masters of deception at Goldman Sachs,” said Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist who supports Sanders.

“The rich irony here is that if anyone is a paid asset of a foreign government, it’s Hillary Clinton, whose foundation has happily pocketed millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia whose dictators oppress women and are carrying out a genocidal war against civilians in Yemen, none of which seems to bother her.”

Several 2020 presidential candidates, like tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have defended Gabbard against what they called baseless attacks. And pundits and anchors at mainstream media outlets have so far treated the allegations with skepticism.

But some of Clinton’s allies describe the effort as designed to head off a potential independent run by Gabbard and to destroy her chances at being in another candidate’s cabinet. “No matter what the DNC does or doesn’t do, Tulsi and her bots will scream rigged and conspiracy,” said Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist. “It’s the same mindset that allows someone to defend Assad. My bigger disappointment is with the candidates who were given an opportunity to start calling out Russian interference and failed.”

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