WASHINGTON, D.C.— The simmering feud between the Democratic presidential candidates, U.S. Senator Kamala Devi Harris — the first-ever Indian American elected to the Senate — and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — the first-ever Hindu American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives — both of whom have been beneficiaries of the largesse of different segments of the Indian American community to their respective campaigns, completely spilled over during the fifth debate in Atlanta on Nov. 13, when Harris ripped into Gabbard all but calling her a wolf in sheep’s clothing in the Democratic Party.
Sources close to Harris had acknowledged that she was waiting for an opportunity to expose Gabbard ever since the latter had landed a veritable “body blow” against her at the July debate that had virtually derailed Harris’s campaign, after Harris had surged post the first debate after she took on the front-runner—former Vice President Joe Biden.
In the second debate, Gabbard accused Harris of having a draconian record as attorney general of California and as a former prosecutor, who had no right attacking Biden, when as the far-right conservative Washington Examiner reported, “put mothers in jail and tried to hide exonerating evidence from the wrongly convicted.”
Recalling Gabbard’s stinging critique, which had Harris on the defensive, according to the Examiner, “That confrontation was decisive — Harris collapsed in the polls and lost her status as one of the leaders of the pack.”
Harris also in the months that followed, besides falling significantly in the polls, also began laying off staff and trailing in the money race and at one point in one poll suffered the ignominy of having Gabbard — who earlier was not even a blip on the radar — almost pulling parallel to her with five percentage polls.
Thus, the moderators of the debate, seemed to perfectly set it up for a smarting Harris to go after Gabbard when they first asked Gabbard as to why she had criticized Hillary Clinton as the “personification of the left that has sickened the Democratic Party” after the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee suggested in an interview in October that she believed Republicans were “grooming” Gabbard to be a spoiler as a third-party candidate.
In that interview, even though not mentioning Gabbard by name, implied that the Hawaii Democrat is “the favorite of the Russians.”
Gabbard in her reply to Clinton’s criticism said, “Our Democratic Party is unfortunately not the party that is of, by and for the people. It is a party that has been and continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment in Washington represented by Hillary Clinton and others’ foreign policy, by the military industrial complex and other greedy corporate interests.”
“I’m running for president to be the Democratic nominee that rebuilds our Democratic Party, takes it out of their hands and truly puts it in the hands of the people of this country,” she added.
Harris, then asked if she had any response, immediately said to much laughter, ‘Oh, sure,” and let fly. “I think that it’s 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.”
She continued, “When Donald Trump was elected—not even sworn in, (she) buddied up to Steve Bannon to get a meeting with Donald Trump in the Trump Tower, fails to call a war criminal (referring to Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad) by what he is, as a war criminal, and them spends full time during the course of this campaign against criticizing the Democratic Party.”
Harris asserted, “What we need on this stage, in November, is someone who has the ability to win. And by that, we need someone on that stage who has the ability to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump. And someone who has the ability to rebuild the Obama coalition and bring the party and the nation together. I believe I am that candidate.”
Gabbard, given an opportunity to respond, fired back, saying, “What Sen. Harris is doing is unfortunately continuing to traffic in lies and smears and innuendos because she cannot challenge the arguments that I am making--the leadership and the change that I am seeking to bring in our foreign policy, which only makes me guess that she will as president, continue the status quo, continue the Bush, Clinton, Trump foreign policy of regime change wars, which is deeply destructive.”
"This is personal to me because I served in Iraq...I left my seat in the state legislature in Hawaii, volunteered to deploy in Iraq, where I served in a medical unit, where every single day I saw the terribly high human cost of war,” she said.
Gabbard declared, “I take very seriously the responsibility that the president has to serve as commander-in-chief, to lead our armed forces and to make sure always -- no, I am not going to put party interest first.”
Harris, has been strongly supported by the largely progressive wing among Indian Americans in the Democratic Party as well as the moderates, and had been endorsed by Indian American Impact, co-founded by former Kansas state legislator Raj Goyle and entrepreneur and philanthropist Deepak Raj, who is also the chairman of Pratham USA.
Gabbard’s support, including significant funding, has come from the Hindu American community, particularly from the Hindutva wing.
But, of late, sources said that with Harris’s percentage numbers plummeting in the polls, and Gabbard not “having a snowball’s chance in hell” of securing the Democratic nomination, both had suffered a significant decline in their fundraising and was unlikely to change anytime soon, unless particularly in the case of Harris, she makes a impressive showing in the Iowa Caucus, followed by the primaries in South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada, in the run-up to Super Tuesday.