Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard faced swift backlash during the first Democratic Party debate after using a question about closing the gender wage gap to talk about her military service.
Ms Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat who has consistently polled at nearly one per cent in national surveys, shared a personal story about how she enrolled in the US military after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers, sparking controversy from critics who said she was “cheapening” her military career by immediately pivoting.
Asked about pay equality, the congresswoman responded: “Well, first of all, let’s recognise the situation we’re in: the American people deserve a president who will put your interests ahead the rich and powerful. That’s not what we have right now.”
“I enlisted in the Army National Guard after the Al-Qeada terror attacks on 9/11, so I could go after those who attacked us on that day,” she added. “I still serve as a major. Served over 16 years. Deployed twice to the Middle East.”
The response stirred criticism online from audiences, who noted how Ms Gabbard frequently discussed military service and the September 11 attacks throughout the night, even when asked about issues that had nothing to do with terrorism or international conflict.
“Tulsi Gabbard’s ‘I served’ is Rudy Giuliani’s ‘I was mayor on 9/11,” one Twitter user wrote. “She cheapens it.”
The Intercept columnist Mehdi Hasan also compared Ms Gabbard to the former New York mayor, saying, “Tulsi Gabbard managed to mention Al Qaeda and 9/11 in her very first Democratic debate answer to a question on... the economy.”
“She truly is the Rudy Giuliani of this presidential election cycle,” he added.
Ms Gabbard has made her opposition to the US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq a central focus of her 2020 campaign.
Her Twitter page began echoing the anti-war messaging she espoused throughout the debate. In one tweet, the congresswoman’s profile wrote: “Our leaders have failed us, taking us into one regime change war after the next, leading us into a new Cold War & arms race, costing us trillions of our hard earned tax payer dollars & countless lives.”
“This insanity must end,” she added.
Later on in the night, Ms Gabbard’s sister used the candidate's Twitter account to lambast the debate night’s media partner, MSNBC, claiming “it’s clear” who the network wants to be the next president: “Elizabeth Warren,” she wrote.
“They're giving her more time than all the other candidates combined,” the congresswoman’s sister wrote. “They aren't giving any time to Tulsi at all.”
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