Saturday, May 25, 2019

First, Pierce Inevitability

At his recent town hall meeting on Fox News, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg remarked

When you’ve got Tucker Carlson saying that immigrants make America dirty. When you’ve got Laura Ingraham comparing detention centers with children in cages to summer camps. There is a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem.

Though- or maybe because- it was accurate, Buttigieg was slammed the morning after by a Fox News host complaining "Don’t hop on our channel and continue to put down the other hosts on the channel, or the channel. If you feel that negative about it, don’t come." Elizabeth Warren "felt" so negatively that she made the courageous, controversial decision not to do a town hall on the network, thus denying Trump TV further credibility.

Yet, Elizabeth Warren, on (considerable) merit, always has been considered a viable candidate for the nomination, whereas Buttigieg has not. One foreign policy expert, though touting the military experience of the South Bend mayor, as well as that of Seth Moulton and Tulsi Gabbard, lumps Buttigieg in with Moulton and Gabbard as having no "more than a very outside chance of winning the nomination."

Yet, Buttiegieg's messaging has been extraordinary, propelling his rise from someone known only to members of the Democratic National Committee to a candidate with support eclipsed only by the well-known Warren, Harris, Sanders, and Biden.

Interviewed Thursday by the Washington Post's Bob Costa, the South Bend mayor characterized Donald Trump as "somebody who... took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled, so that somebody could go to war in his place." When Buttigieg was ridiculed by Trump, the mayor previously had responded "You can't get too worried about the name calling and the games he play. I was thinking of a Chinese proverb that goes, 'When the wind changes, some people build walls and some people build windmills.'"

Of the Vice-President, Buttigieg rhetorically asks "How could he allow himself to be the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?" That is a good line. Deftly employing humblebrag, Buttigieg claims "I am not skilled enough or energetic enough to craft a persona. I just have to be who I am and hope people like it."

Fox News' Brit Hume has recognized that Buttigieg is "as fluid as he can be, [and] he seems to have something to say about nearly every issue."And so Pete Buttigieg, emerging as the master of the put-down to the deserving, is just the right person to throw a hard right at Joe Biden's jaw.  

It will have to be done by someone, probably at a debate, and soon, before Biden expands his lead and puts his competitors to bed.  One political science professor maintains that "to pierce the Biden veil of inevitability," a successful candidate will have to convince older Democrats that Biden is not the candidate most likely to defeat Donald Trump and to "peel off" black voters "by prodding Biden without hitting Obama or his cherished liberal legacy."

The first condition will be met if and when the second condition is met.

A Democratic candidate can claim that Biden's candidacy is about nothing more than "a noun, a verb, and Barack Obama," a charge all the more important because it a) would be used against the former vice-president in a general election; and b) is accurate. Presumably, Biden would react by wrapping himself ever more securely in the warm, fuzzy blanket of Obamism.

At that point, the candidate could effectively respond "o.k. but the American people are looking to the future, not the past, even the recent past."  And there is no candidate better positioned to do that than one adept in political framing who has drawn comparisons to Barack Obama himself. For extra points, that candidate is a military veteran, young, and gay, a powerful combination for rebutting Biden on the issue of the past vs. the future. Additionally, Buttigieg, still (barely) a dark horse, may have nothing to lose, especially because he already is seen as something of a political outsider.

Admittedly, this is an unlikely scenario. It not only would require serious political courage, and the mayor has Obama veterans working with him. Nor would Buttigieg be the best President among the Democratic candidates- and he has much to answer for.  However, it's a necessary, and someone has to do it, not only to block Biden's quest for the nomination, but to break the Obama fever which has infected Democratic voters far too long. 

Questioning President Obama's legacy in a Democratic debate would be more difficult than standing up to President Trump. Nonetheless, it would most easily be done by someone asserting "I don't have a problem standing up to somebody who was working on season 7 (of) Celebrity Apprentice when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan."

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