The Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday was free of some of the fireworks of previous events, but one candidate stood out for her sparring with her rivals: Tulsi Gabbard.
The Hawaii Democrat was a target of one of Kamala Harris’s attacks. “It is unfortunate that we have someone on this stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, who during the Obama administration spent four years full-time on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” Harris said, adding that Gabbard “buddied up with Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump.”
Gabbard responded, “What Senator Harris is doing is unfortunately continuing to traffic in lies and smears and innuendos because she cannot challenge the substance of the argument that I’m making.”
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She said Harris would “continue the status quo, continue the Bush-Clinton-Trump foreign policy of regime change wars.” She has made a central campaign theme her opposition to an interventionist foreign policy, to the ire of other Democrats who suggest that she is only helping Donald Trump. Last month, Hillary Clinton referred to a candidate who was a “favorite of the Russians” — and even though she didn’t mention Gabbard by name, it was clear who she was talking about.
Later in the debate, Gabbard went after Pete Buttigieg, claiming that his “inexperience” in national security and foreign policy was evident in a recent “careless” statement he made about sending troops to Mexico to fight the cartels.
Her accusation triggered the feistiest exchange of the night. Buttigieg responded, “I know that it is par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish, even by the standards of today’s politics.”
Buttigieg said that he was talking about U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
“Do you seriously think anyone on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?” Buttigieg said.
“That’s not what I said,” Gabbard replied.
Buttigieg then attacked her for meeting in 2017 with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. He said that he had “enough judgment that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”
She responded, “What you have just pointed out is that you would lack the courage to meet with adversaries and friends.”
Later, Gabbard appeared with Chris Matthews in a post-debate interview. MSNBC commentator Steve Schmidt told her that he though her debate performance was “dishonest” and asked her why she met with Assad.
Gabbard has been particularly critical of the Democratic establishment, and even threatened to boycott the last debate in protest of the rules for the events. She eventually showed up.
But she risks not making the sixth debate, which will be held on Dec. 19 in Los Angeles. The DNC is requiring that candidates have at least 4 percent support in four polls (or 6 percent in two early state polls) and have at least 200,000 unique donors.