Former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton began peddling a wild conspiracy theory last week by labeling 2020 White House hopeful and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii a Russian asset being groomed for a third-party presidential run.
“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said in a podcast interview speculating on Russia’s involvement in the next election. “She’s the favorite of the Russians.”
The comments soon went viral, prompting Gabbard to respond by chastising the former first lady as “the queen of warmongers.”
“You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain,” Gabbard wrote on Twitter. “From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you.”
… concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and …
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) October 18, 2019
It was a gift to a struggling candidate who has made running against an establishment elite the centerpiece of her campaign.
The Hawaii congresswoman, who barely qualified for the last Democratic primary debate, immediately started fundraising from the feud with her own party’s last presidential nominee.
Tulsi Gabbard is now fundraising off the Clinton attack
Email to supporters just now >> pic.twitter.com/NmEObQI2GS
— Jesse Byrnes (@jessebyrnes) October 19, 2019
“Hillary Clinton accused Tulsi Gabbard – a combat veteran, soldier and Major in the Army National Guard – of being ‘groomed’ to be a ‘Russian asset,’” Gabbard wrote in an email to supporters. “Below, Tulsi fights back and demands Hillary join the race and face her directly.”
The public clash with Clinton has earned Gabbard a plethora of press attention, landing her on primetime shows and garnering praise from other Democrats and members of the media coming to the congresswoman’s defense.
“Tulsi Gabbard deserves much more respect and thanks than this. She literally just got back from serving our country abroad,” tech entrepreneur and rival 2020 hopeful Andrew Yang wrote on Twitter.
Tulsi Gabbard deserves much more respect and thanks than this. She literally just got back from serving our country abroad.
— Andrew Yang🧢⬆️🇺🇸 (@AndrewYang) October 19, 2019
“The Democratic establishment has got to stop smearing women it finds inconvenient!” self-help author Marianne Williamson added. “The character assassination of women who don’t toe the party line will backfire. Stay strong @TulsiGabbard. You deserve respect and you have mine.”
The Democratic establishment has got to stop smearing women it finds inconvenient! The character assassination of women who don’t toe the party line will backfire. Stay strong @TulsiGabbard . You deserve respect and you have mine.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) October 19, 2019
Whether the show of public support will be reflected in subsequent polling remains to seen, but Clinton’s blunder has given Gabbard’s campaign added publicity and played directly into Gabbard’s anti-establishment theme.
Gabbard has had to combat the smear of being a Russian asset in recent weeks following reported interest in the congresswoman’s campaign from Russia. During last week’s New York Times-moderated debate with CNN, Gabbard attacked the Times for publishing an article chronicling support for her candidacy from Russian bots and news media. Gabbard slammed the Times at the primetime event for smearing her as a “Russian asset” as “completely despicable.”
Gabbard has a long history of going against the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Her feud with Clinton dates back to the 2016 election. During last cycle’s primaries, Gabbard bucked the party trend and endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont over Clinton right after stepping down as the vice chair of the Democratic Party.
Republicans and conservatives have also come to Gabbard’s defense while taking shots at Clinton. President Donald Trump, who is no stranger to being falsely branded an asset of the Russian government, also slammed Clinton when talking to reporters.
“She’s accusing everyone of being a Russian agent,” Trump said about his former presidential rival.
The allegations have reignited Gabbard’s campaign from a candidate barely registering in most polls to one who is now seen as taking on Democratic establishment elite while touting a platform of peace.
Despite Gabbard’s long record of dedicated service in the military and positions on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton’s spokesperson doubled-down on the accusation of treachery.
“This is not an outlandish claim,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told CNN’s Dan Merica.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill responds to Gabbard’s response/thread: “Divisive language filled with vitriol and conspiracy theories? Can’t imagine a better proof point than this.” https://t.co/MofEisUVrf
— Dan Merica (@merica) October 18, 2019
Except it actually is.