Many high-level Democrats I spoke with for this story, who insisted on anonymity to share their true feelings about her, suspect that Gabbard is up to something other than actually trying to win the party’s nomination—even if they can’t quite identify what her goal is. These are people who have been wary since Gabbard became a Fox News favorite for criticizing Obama’s foreign policy. They believed that their distrust was vindicated when Steve Bannon brought her in for a meeting with then-president-elect Donald Trump just two weeks after the 2016 election, which was one of Trump’s first meetings with a Democrat. To this group, Gabbard looks like Jill Stein, who also talked about progressive politics and peace, but whose 2016 Green Party run was, to them, a self-centered campaign that blew a crucial hole in Hillary Clinton’s chances, eating up money and getting Russian support along the way.
RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, often highlights Gabbard’s campaign. The Russian embassy in South Africa has tweeted defensively about her, Russian bots have boosted her, and neo-Nazis bragged about helping her small-donor count so she could qualify for the first two debates. (She fell just a few polls short of qualifying for the September debate, but might make the stage once again in October.)
Theories I’ve heard from top Democrats include that Gabbard is trying to get a TV show—“I already know which network: Fox,” one senior Democrat not affiliated with any campaign said, speaking anonymously to remain publicly neutral—and that she’s gearing up for a Trump-benefiting third-party run.