SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is spending the weekend in Utah — one of the states in which she feels she can make the most impact — to share her vision of restoring respect between citizens and ending costly wars.
“We need to heal the divides in our country. We are facing an incredibly divisive time, and it will require both strong leadership that puts service to the American people and our country first, and every one of us as Americans taking action to bridge those divides,” Gabbard told the Deseret News Saturday in a discussion about some of the race’s challenges and what she hopes to bring to the White House.
Bridging divides will require “respecting each other as Americans, setting the partisanship aside, and really recognizing that there is strength in the diversity of our ideas and our views and our experiences. We have to heed the warning that a house divided against itself can’t stand. And we are the answer to being able to strengthen that foundation,” Gabbard said.
When asked if she believes she can find traction in red state Utah — where later Saturday she planned to hold a town hall meeting in Provo — Gabbard is optimistic.
“Because throughout my entire campaign, and we’ve seen the same thing happening here as we saw in other states that I’ve been in, is at our gatherings, at our town halls, we have Democrats, Republicans and independents coming out showing support,” explained Gabbard, a U.S. representative from Hawaii who served in the Iraq War.
“And given Republicans can make their voices heard in the Democratic primary, there’s a lot of opportunity there for people to take action on my message, which is really about putting country first, and that we must stand together as Americans to heal these divides, and make it possible for us to get back to doing the work of the people in Washington,” she said.
Embracing differences and bipartisanship is one of the focuses of her campaign, and how she hopes to make an impact in a race where money talks.
As Gabbard puts it — and explaining why she was in Utah while the Nevada caucuses were going on Saturday — it’s difficult to compete in the caucuses “if you’re not a billionaire and if you don’t have a ton of money.”
She also says she’s experienced a “media blackout” from national news outlets, which have highlighted several of opponent Pete Buttigieg’s town hall meetings while airing just one of hers. But Gabbard says local journalists have given her a chance to be heard.
“So I’m making some strategic decisions about where I can best spend my time where I feel like I can make the most impact, given obviously Super Tuesday is a big day,” she said.
Nationally, Gabbard is polling well below the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination. And Utahns’ support for the president remains firm when compared to potential opponents, according to a recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.
Trump gets a 53% percent approval rating from Utahns — 27% strongly approve and 26% somewhat approve of the job he is doing. On the flip side, 44% disapprove, including 30% strongly, according to the poll.
When matched head to head against the top six Democratic presidential candidates — which did not include Gabbard — in the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll, Trump bests them all, though he only wins with 50% over Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Gabbard says she joined the race with the mission of ending “the wasteful regime-change wars.”
“This new cold war, nuclear arms race that we are entering into, wars that have not made us any safer, have not served our country’s national security interests and unfortunately have cost us tremendously in lives and trillions of taxpayer dollars,” Gabbard said.
She’ll divert money used to fight wars like the one in Afghanistan to pay the country’s debt, she said. The goal in Afghanistan is to prevent a resurgence of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, Gabbard said, which can be done by deploying U.S. Special Forces units to target the threat “rather than continue this objectiveless mission that we’ve had there with our troops being there for so long.”
U.S. soldiers that have been “diverted” from the mission of stopping al-Qaida and ISIS shouldn’t be there, she said.
Consistency is needed, she said, pointing to the U.S. pulling support away from Syria and Syrian Kurds that Americans fought alongside with as Turkey targets the country, but continuing to help Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
When asked about comparisons between her and President Donald Trump, as the two have both been viewed by some as having an “isolationist” point of view, Gabbard said she disagrees with the comparison and believes in engaging with other countries with means other than war and sanctions.
“We have to be an active part and leader in the global community. I would lead with a foreign policy that’s focused on diplomacy, cooperation rather than conflict, leaving the doors open for us to be able to work out serious differences we have with other countries while creating that space to address areas of shared concern and shared interest,” she explained.
Gabbard’s own background is culturally and religiously diverse. Her mother grew up in Michigan in a Lutheran family. Her father, from American Samoa, grew up Catholic and even considered becoming a priest, Gabbard told Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson on KSL Newsradio’s “Inside Sources.”
When her mom sought to draw closer to God, she discovered Hinduism. Gabbard says she grew up hearing bedtime stories about Jesus Christ from the New Testament and about Krishna from the Bhagavad Gīta.
Despite her parents’ differing beliefs, Gabbard says she grew up “not ever feeling at any time in our childhood or our lives that, ‘Well, you had to choose, you’re either going to do what Mom does or do what Dad does,’ but instead both my parents really instilling in all of us the most important thing, which is real religion is about love for God.”
She said that love for God and others is “what motivates me in everything that I do.”
Her philosophy on how to close divides in the country is: “Let’s just talk and listen, treat each other with respect, get to know each other a little better. And we’re not all going to agree on everything, nor should we. There’s strength in, ‘Well, I’ve had a different experience in my life than you have,’” Gabbard told Matheson.
“And that is where I know we must go as a country. Washington is way out of touch with the reality of the everyday lives of the American people. So that means it’s on us. It’s on us. The change we need to bring about can only happen if we make it happen.”