No one saw Pete Buttigieg coming except himself

5 February 2020

9:45 AM

5 February 2020

9:45 AM

Small wonder that Joe Biden skedaddled out of Iowa as fast as he could to New Hampshire. It looks like generational change, once and for all, is coming to the Democratic party. If the numbers hold up, Mayor Pete is headed toward a confrontation first with Mike Bloomberg, then Donald Trump.

Even if Bernie Sanders comes in second, it has to be counted as a disappointment for him. Sanders was counting on a triumph. Instead, he will head to New Hampshire with his claim to be attracting masses of new voters looking about as hollow as Donald Trump boasting about his towering IQ. Turnout in Iowa appears to be about where it was in 2016. The socialist elixir is something that even many Democrats aren’t willing to quaff.

For all his chortling about the chaos in Iowa, Trump may have miscalculated himself in incessantly dinging Biden about Hunter’s frolics in Ukraine. In fact, he may have done the Democrats a favor. If Buttigieg falters in the upcoming primaries, Michael Bloomberg, who is well-poised to pick up the Democratic baton, can plausibly claim to represent a serious threat to Trump.

For now, however, the nomination appears to be Buttigieg’s to win. He has what George H.W. Bush liked to call ‘Big Mo’ after he won Iowa against Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan ended up defeating Bush, but Buttigieg is a cool customer and will not be as easy to displace. The other candidates — Biden, Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren — are going to train their artillery on him, but if he can survive the barrage Buttigieg will be the classic outsider candidate à la Jimmy Carter in 1976, when he came from nowhere to run as an anti-establishment candidate. No one saw Buttigieg coming except himself.

The unexpected result suggests that the primary process is actually working. For all the hugger-mugger about the delayed vote count, it definitely looks like Democrats, in one form or another, are not standing pat but searching for a candidate who would represent actual change rather simply a return to normalcy in Washington. But what’s normal anyway? The normality that Biden represented has come to be viewed by more than a few Americans as its own kind of tragedy, involving a series of foreign wars, the denuding of the American industrial landscape and massive wealth inequalities.

Trump blazed the path, destroying the old Republican guard. Now, one way or another, it looks like the establishment figures of the Democratic party — the Warrens, the Bidens — are about to fall by the wayside as well. Either Buttigieg or Bloomberg seem likely to become the Fortinbras of the Democratic party, surveying the carnage and charting the course into a brave new world.

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