The most obvious obstacle between any noninterventionist candidate and mainstream success is D.C.’s foreign-policy Establishment — the think-tankers and politicians and media personalities and intelligence professionals and defense-company contractors and, very often, intelligence professionals turned defense-company contractors who determine the bounds of acceptable thinking on war and peace. In parts of D.C., this Establishment is called “the Blob,” and to stray beyond its edges is to risk being deemed “unserious,” which as a woman candidate one must be very careful not to be. …The Blob loves to “stand for” things, especially “leadership” and “democracy.” The Blob loves to assign moral blame, loves signaling virtue while failing to follow up on civilian deaths, and definitely needs you to be clear on “who the enemy is” — a kind of obsessive deontological approach in which naming things is more important than cataloguing the effects of any particular policy.
The cult of war, however, cannot entirely explain the opposition to a candidate who constantly picks low-stakes, politically inopportune fights within her own party. During Barack Obama’s tenure, Tulsi repeatedly criticized him for failing to use the words Islamic extremism and described her concern about a “radical Islamic extremist agenda,” a move that earned her no love among members of her party, which had once considered her its future. She voted, with Republicans, to make it virtually impossible for Syrian refugees to come into the country. She has been strangely absent for votes relating to Russia and NATO and has racked up unwelcome support from Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and David Duke. Her divergence from party orthodoxy on many issues is striking, against her self-interest, and lacking in any apparent narrative line. There is no cohesive ideology that explains the idiosyncratic political positioning, no single point of reference from which it all makes sense, and so the relevant question regarding Tulsi Gabbard is reducible to: What is she doing?