Tulsi Gabbard’s CPAC debut was inevitable

The former Democratic presidential candidate is going all-in on the hard right.

WASHINGTON, DC  JANUARY 10: Democratic Presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) speaks to re...
Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Former Democratic congresswoman and dark horse 2020 candidate Tulsi Gabbard is poised to make her re-entry into politics next week with a much hyped appearance at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference — the annual who’s-who event for the unhinged lunatic fringe of the Republican Party to mingle with their more respectable (that is: less flamboyantly fascistic) right-wing brethren.

That Gabbard, a onetime vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee, would headline at a conference rife with conservative conspiracy theorists, antisemites, seditionists, and outright fascists might seem surprising at first. It’s hard to imagine an event that, on the surface, seems worse suited for someone who once took a swing at becoming her party’s presidential standard bearer. But Gabbard’s pivot from standing alongside Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on a DNC debate stage to joining conspiracy-addled extremist Glenn Beck for CPAC’s “Ronald Reagan Dinner” on Friday is not actually as unexpected as it appears.

Even as a congresswoman, Gabbard carefully cultivated a host of far-right admirers — including white nationalist Richard Spencer — thanks in part to her staunch, if wildly inconsistent, non-interventionist foreign policy posturing, and her backing of a number of socially conservative bills aimed at attacking reproductive health and the transgender community. Since leaving office more than a year ago, she has largely maintained her public persona through appearances in conservative media, where she frequently parrots right-wing talking points. She has, throughout her career, used the facade of progressive politics to mask a decidedly conservative agenda.

While Gabbard isn’t the first Democrat to make a CPAC appearance (fellow former congressman and onetime Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich spoke in 2015) her presence at the upcoming event is notable if for no other reason than how predictable and inevitable-feeling it is. The fact that she has an abysmal 7.6% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union — the same group that sponsors CPAC — is irrelevant in an age where optics matter as much, if not more than actual policies. For CPAC, hosting Gabbard affords the unambiguously hard-right group the opportunity to claim bipartisan appeal for a movement trying to both embrace, and move beyond the Trump administration. Gabbard, meanwhile, is in a position to not only boost her conservative bona fides, but also claim the status as an iconoclastic maverick willing to reach across an aisle that, in reality, she’d crossed long ago.

Whether Gabbard will ultimately run for office again, either as a Republican, or more likely a right-leaning independent, remains to be seen. What’s clear, however, is that if she does, no one will be able to say they couldn’t have seen it coming.