My first thought upon reading this was for poor Tucker Carlson, her nationalist admirer at Fox, whose heart must be breaking. If Gabbard’s not going to shill for Trump when the chips are down, of what use is she ultimately to Fox News and MAGA Nation? Right, great, she dealt a heavy blow to Kamala Harris at the second debate. Protecting Trump from impeachment matters much more.

I pointed out on Tuesday when she sounded like a no on impeachment that she was placing herself in an awkward position politically. She just qualified for the October presidential debate, after all; she’s going to be onstage next month on national television at a moment when her party is racing towards impeaching the president with near-unanimous support among its own base. She was certain to be asked about her stance at that debate. Anything she might conceivably say about the drawbacks of impeachment — it’s divisive, it’s another blow to political norms, it’s proceeding without due deliberation — would be interpreted by lefties as treason against the party. She’d wreck her political future at the tender age of 38.

She needed to climb down, and so today she did.

“However, after looking carefully at the transcript of the conversation with Ukraine’s President, the whistleblower complaint, the Inspector General memo, and President Trump’s comments about the issue, unfortunately, I believe that if we do not proceed with the inquiry, it will set a very dangerous precedent. Future presidents, as well as anyone in positions of power in the government, will conclude that they can abuse their position for personal gain, without fear of accountability or consequences.

“If we allow the President to abuse his or her power, then our society will rot from top to bottom. We will turn into a banana republic, where people in positions of power—from the president all the way down to the traffic cop—will feel it’s okay to abuse their power with no consequences.

“This is not the kind of country that any of us want to see.”

She’s not calling for impeachment but for an impeachment inquiry, the same sort of hedge Pelosi has used lately. Democrats aren’t committed to impeaching the president (officially) but they are now committed to investigating the Ukraine matter in the expectation that it’ll lead to impeachment if the claims are substantiated. Gabbard hedges a bit more for the MAGA fans in her base when she goes on to say that the Democrats’ inquiry “must be swift, thorough, and narrowly-focused” and “cannot be turned into a long, protracted partisan circus.” She even uses the word “unfortunate” not once but twice in her statement to signal her deep, deep misgivings about taking this position — although, in fairness, she also notes Trump’s own comments about the Ukraine matter as a contributing factor in her reversal. I wonder which comments, specifically. These, maybe?

And so we come to the question: Wha’ happened? Did Gabbard flip-flop because she really was persuaded by the whistleblower complaint that there might be corruption here? Was it a simple matter of her knowing her position would be untenable onstage at the next debate?

Or was it something else? Meet Kai Kehele, Democrat and candidate for office in Hawaii’s Second District. That’s Gabbard’s district. He’s challenging her in the primary and he’s been playing her reluctance to impeach Trump, which she had called “divisive,” to the hilt on Twitter this week:

As of this morning, just 12 Democrats in the House still opposed an impeachment inquiry into the Ukraine matter. Eleven of the 12 come from purplish districts, many won by Trump in 2016. Opposing the president under those circumstances is risky. The only exception: Tulsi Gabbard, whose home district in Hawaii broke for Hillary Clinton by more than 30 points. Her stance is — or was — waaaay out of step with the partisan tendencies of her home state. If Gabbard had stuck to her guns on opposing impeachment and been confronted about it on a national stage at the next debate, donations from outraged lefties would have begun flowing in to Kehele’s campaign from across America. Gabbard would have been at risk of losing her House seat. At the end of the day, Tulsi’s enough of a conventional politician to protect her own career when she has reason to believe it’s in peril.

By the way, the DNC announced today that the entire field of 12 candidates will be onstage together at the October debate instead of splitting into two groups of six, which means another opportunity for Gabbard to take it to Kamala Harris in a big spot. Maybe she’ll end up back in Trump Nation’s good graces after that. In lieu of an exit question, re-read her statement and note that Gabbard’s standard of potentially impeachable offenses appears to involve “abuses of power,” not statutorily defined crimes. That’s a point that’s already popped up in Trump’s defense among his supporters, including on her friend Tucker’s show: If impeachment is supposed to focus on “high crimes and misdemeanors,” what specific “crime” is Trump guilty of? Gabbard appears to be of the view that abuse of power is enough of a crime to justify an inquiry, another point of division between her and Trumpers.