A New York Times/Siena College poll released on Friday is “full of alarming signs” for Joe Biden.
The survey – which grabbed headlines primarily because it suggested Biden’s candidacy may be in serious jeopardy despite national polls which show the former vice president still leading the pack – finds Joe in fourth place in Iowa, with just three months to the caucuses.
“His comparatively weak position in the earliest primary and caucus states now presents a serious threat to his candidacy”, the Times writes, adding that Biden’s unsteadiness appears to have opened a path in the race for other Democrats closer to the political middle, particularly Buttigieg”.
Apparently, young voters aren’t interested in Joe – at all. Just 2% of those under 45 said they planned to caucus for him.
In a Saturday piece, Politico details Buttigieg’s rise. Mayor Pete, the site writes, has been “steadily building crowds and rapidly expanding his presence in the state” where he’s doubled his staff in just the last 30 days.
The bottom line, Politico notes, is that “through his spending and organizing efforts, Buttigieg has managed to reshape the top tier into a 4-way contest”.
That is a remarkable feat. Buttigieg, a veteran, is well-spoken and appeals to those hoping to avoid a situation where the nation is forced to choose between a far-left candidate and four more years of tragicomedic fascism under an increasingly unhinged Donald Trump.
He’ll likely win the support of some wealthy donors by default in the event it becomes clear that Biden can’t vanquish Elizabeth Warren. “I love Pete, I love Mayor Pete, because I think he would be the best administrator to run this country, and he’s got a compassionate heart”, Paul Tudor Jones said last month, at a gala attended by other deep-pocketed fund managers and luminaries. (Jones says he’s “not politically active at all”, but is “excited” about Buttigieg.)
Others are “excited” too, but Buttigieg is a risky proposition when it comes to betting the house in a general election with someone who fashions himself a kind of third-world strongman.
Trump has no qualms about deriding veterans (he did it just this week, lambasting Purple Heart recipient Alexander Vindman, who delivered damaging testimony in the impeachment inquiry) and the president will doubtlessly make Buttigieg’s sexual orientation a campaign issue. Trump will, in short, ask voters if they really want Pete and his husband, (and he’ll put the emphasis on “husband”) Chasten to be America’s first family.
That won’t just be “fair game” to the Trump campaign in a hypothetical general election that pits the president against Buttigieg. It will be part of the strategy. Trump is a man who was more than happy to suggest that congresswoman Ilhan Omar is a terrorist who “hates Jews and loves al-Qaeda“. Earlier this year, he appeared to suggest that John McCain went to hell after he died. He once alluded to sexual favors from Kirsten Gillibrand. And on and on. The point: Trump won’t hesitate for a second to traffic in homophobic slurs, and Fox will surely play along under the guise of defending “American values”.
These are uncomfortable realities, but what Democratic voters should acknowledge right now, before deciding to elevate Buttigieg even further, is that Trump is totally comfortable with it, even if he’s said publicly (on Fox, no less) that he supports Buttigieg and his husband.
“I think it’s absolutely fine”, Trump responded, asked about public displays of affection between Pete and Chasten. “That’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it’s good”.
That’s probably true. Trump likely doesn’t care one way or another who marries who in Indiana, and the idea that a man as consumed with himself as Trump is cares whether a couple of guys share a hug in public is laughable.
The problem, though, is that Trump’s base cares. And if Democrats think for a second that Trump won’t turn into a homophobe overnight if he thinks it will play well at rallies, then Democrats haven’t learned much over the past three years. There is nothing Trump won’t say or do to undermine a rival.
In the meantime, betting markets see things a lot differently than the polls. Warren is the runaway favorite in the prediction market, but still trails in nationwide polling. Have a look:
As the billionaire class and other ultra-wealthy donors have recently lamented, Warren draws her strength from criticism, which means the “best” strategy is just to shut up, or risk being Wile-E.-Coyote-d like Jim Cramer.
“There’s really not a damn thing you can do about Warren. There is nothing. It’s the same thing Republicans went through with Trump”, one hedge fund manager told Politico last month. “If you say anything about it you just make her stronger.” (Leon Cooperman didn’t get the memo on that.)
The trajectory is remarkable. Warren’s momentum in betting markets is simply astounding. Buttigieg’s recent surge stands out, but just barely:
To be clear, Buttigieg’s sexuality shouldn’t be an issue, but is. And it will be.
Indeed, he’s already suggested that he probably wouldn’t be where he is in the race were it not for being gay. “It’s safe to say that it led to there being more interest and attention early on”, he told the Times’s Frank Bruni in June.
“But there’s a big difference between winning over enough Americans to land in his current position and having an appeal broad enough to nab the party’s nomination, let alone the White House”, Bruni wrote this week, on the way to asking if “being gay [is] an insurmountable obstacle on the path to those prizes”.
“Anyone who answers with an unequivocal yes or no is just guessing”, Bruni added.
Trump has, of course, variously pitched himself as a champion of LGBTQ rights. In fact, as NBC reminds you, at the 2016 Republican National Convention, he “became the first GOP presidential nominee to directly address the LGBTQ community from a convention podium”. “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology”, he said at the time. (Video and audio here.)
For a man who likes to say “promises made, promises kept”, that has definitely been a promise broken.
“The Iowa caucus takes place on February 3rd, roughly 100 days from now. Voters in 18 states will have cast their ballots by March 3rd”, Goldman wrote Friday, in a new election implications piece. “Approximately 34% of total delegates are slated to be pledged on March 3rd alone (“Super Tuesday”), when 14 states will hold primaries”.
Ultimately, none of this may end up mattering. It is by no means certain that Donald Trump will even be on the ballot next year. Nor is it particularly likely that Buttigieg will prevail in the race for the Democratic nomination.
But, it’s possible that Democrats are underestimating the boost Mayor Pete would get were Biden to stumble badly enough to force those who lean centrist to jump ship. Beto is done. Kamala will likely drop out soon too. And please, spare me the absurd notion that Amy Klobuchar is going to mount an epic come-from-behind push.
Who knows, maybe Pete Buttigieg is America’s future. If that turns out to be the case, it would certainly be a welcome respite from the country’s recent past.
The question, though, is whether a Buttigieg presidency would really bring about transformational change. There would certainty be a sense of pathbreaking, societal progress inherent in America electing a gay president. But that would say more about Americans than it would about Buttigieg.
It’s not enough to be the antithesis of Trump (openly gay, willing to fight and die in combat for America, comparatively centrist). The country needs more than that. To use Paul Tudor Jones’s characterization, America needs more than “a compassionate heart”.
As Warren put it on Friday in Iowa (at Wells Fargo Arena, appropriately enough), “If the most we can promise is business as usual after Donald Trump then Democrats will lose”.
Some would argue Buttigieg is promising more than “business as usual”. That may well be the case. But his agenda certainly looks more “usual” than Warren’s.