First, she’s at least interesting. The rest of the Democrats will be accusing each other of deviationism over trivialities. Gabbard’s been accused of being a toady of Bashar al-Assad and a Hindu-nationalist fifth columnist. She also grew up in a socially conservative household and, as a very young woman, she participated in her activist father’s campaigns against the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriage. You can imagine how that’s going over among Democrats. But she’s also young and attractive. She’s a veteran of the Iraq war, and still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard. And unlike Barack Obama, who basically appropriated his wife’s South-Side Chicago identity, Gabbard fully embraces her Hawaiian roots. If one made a word cloud of her first campaign speech, “Aloha” would outrank “love,” “sacrifice,” and even “neocon.”
She’s also willing to tilt against her party. She defended a generous vision of liberal religious pluralism and social respect when she went after a fellow Hawaii Democrat, Senator Mazie Hirono, for attacking federal-judiciary nominee Brian Buescher based solely on his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal Catholic charitable order. Writing in The Hill, Gabbard said that while she opposed the nominee for other reasons, “I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers [his] Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.” This is good, and she seems to be paying a price for it as Hawaiian Democrats work up a primary challenger in her House district. It’s also not clear whether Democrats are angrier that Gabbard once had tea with Bashar al-Assad, or with Donald Trump when he was filling out his Cabinet picks.