Before things went awry, Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii had been planning to be in Las Vegas for her party’s first presidential debate. Gabbard is one of five vice chairs of the Democratic National Committee; of course she would be there. But instead of talking up her party’s prospects on the Strip earlier this week, Gabbard was in Honolulu. Her presence in Sin City was strictly virtual, and anything but boosterish: She spent debate day giving cable-news interviews via satellite, claiming that, as retribution for loudly calling for more Democratic debates than the DNC currently envisions, she was deemed unwelcome in Vegas by the committee’s chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz—who Gabbard suggested is an enemy of free speech, as well as a liar.
For most debate viewers and Democratic voters, the Gabbard flap, if it registered at all, was little more than a sideshow. But among Democratic officials and strategists, the dust-up was an embarrassing public spectacle—a boiling-over of long-simmering frustrations and resentments within the party hierarchy at a highly inopportune moment.