Why former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard came to Utah to campaign for GOP Sen. Mike Lee

Emily Anderson Stern 10/28/2022

Former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard came to Utah to stump for Republican Sen. Mike Lee, a self-described constitutional conservative, on Thursday — just two weeks after announcing her departure from the party over which she vice-chaired.

In front of a crowd of hundreds of Mike Lee supporters — some wearing Make America Great Again hats and others clad in shirts with “I like Mike” printed on them — seated in a gym at American Preparatory Academy in Draper, Gabbard spoke with Lee about her reasons for leaving the party, and why she is backing him over independent Evan McMullin.

The pair were introduced at the event by former Utah Rep. Mia Love, who described Gabbard as someone with integrity, saying “she was the only Democrat in the Republican Capitol Hill Club.”

“The fact that she’s here tonight, standing with our very own Mike Lee, ... she again proved what type of integrity she has,” Love said.

Since her presidential run in 2020, which ended with her dropping out and endorsing President Joe Biden, Gabbard has taken increasingly conservative stances on many issues. In a video posted to Twitter announcing her departure, Gabbard cited differences with the Democratic Party’s stance on foreign policy and social issues.

“I’m calling on my fellow common sense, independent-minded Democrats to join me in leaving the Democratic Party. If you can no longer stomach the direction that the so-called woke Democratic Party ideologues are taking our county, then I invite you to join me,” she said.

At the end of the night, Lee gave Gabbard a plush elephant — the traditional mascot of the Republican Party. She has not joined the party and remains unaffiliated, but is hitting the campaign trail for several other Republican candidates.

Gabbard told the audience that the U.S. Senate race in Utah wasn’t on her radar until recently, when someone sent her an email saying that conservative personality Glenn Beck was campaigning for Mike Lee, and that she should, too.

“I texted Mike right away and I just said, ‘Let me know how I can help,’” she told the audience.

Throughout the night, the audio system cut in and out, making it difficult to hear Gabbard and Lee over the crowd.

“We’re gonna cancel these other microphones the same way the left cancels us,” the senator joked.

It didn’t take long for the pair to discuss some of the criticisms of Lee that have surfaced in what has been the most competitive U.S. Senate race Utah has seen in decades. Within the first few minutes of Love handing the program over to Lee and Gabbard, the latter addressed jabs from McMullin’s allies.

At a similar event held by McMullin last week with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the House Jan. 6 committee, the congressman from Illinois poked fun at Lee for pulling a pocket Constitution out of his suit coat at a debate earlier this month.

Kinzinger said Lee doesn’t “follow through” on defending the document, referring to texts sent to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, seemingly advising and assisting former President Donald Trump on his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“The guy who’s running against Mike Lee is accusing Mike of using the Constitution as a prop,” she said, continuing, “They’ve obviously never met Mike Lee.”

Gabbard, a military veteran, said she supports Lee because she believes he’ll defend the Constitution. She specifically cited the War Powers Clause in Article I, saying that Congress has long abdicated that responsibility.

The former congresswoman is a vocal critic of the aid the Biden administration has given to Ukraine in its war against Russia — a stance that has earned her criticism from members of her former party. Lee was among 11 Republicans to vote against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.

About a half dozen McMullin supporters stood outside the event holding posters attacking the politicians’ stance. One poster said, “Moscow Mike,” and another said “Putin’s puppet.”

“We’ll give them style points maybe, but what’s that about?” Lee said, referring to the protesters. Turning to Gabbard, he asked, “I mean, do you love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin?”

“For the record, no,” Gabbard said, as the audience laughed.

In a statement sent to reporters earlier Thursday, McMullin wrote, “Tulsi Gabbard is most known for her cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin. Senator Lee inviting her here to Utah as Putin commits unspeakable atrocities in Ukraine is a terrible mistake.”

Since it invaded Ukraine in February, Russia has continued to hit cities and infrastructure with drone and missile strikes.

“Those of us who raise these questions and challenge their warmongering narrative, all they can do is use these smear attacks because they’ve got nothing else to say, and I know his opponent is throwing these out, left and right,” Gabbard said. “He should be embarrassed.”

Lee also took a jab at McMullin for a lawsuit he filed against the conservative super PAC Club for Growth Action, which ran a doctored ad that made it seem as if the independent candidate said the Republican base is racist.

Lee — citing a tweet posted by McMullin in January 2021 that criticized Georgia’s former GOP senators, in which McMullin wrote, “With few exceptions, the GOP has become a ruinous, unpatriotic blight and both senators are as corrupt as they come” — said McMullin “was quoted correctly saying horrible things about the Republican Party.”

Although the January 2021 Twitter post was not the same McMullin statement doctored in the Club for Growth ad that inspired the lawsuit.

Lee told the crowd that they’ve got a decision to make and urged them to submit their mail-in ballots.

“I’ve already made it!,” an event-goer shouted.


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