I’m surprised to see him let O’Rourke get to his left on a cultural flashpoint this hot, especially since Buttigieg has spent the past few months urging Democrats not to let the right spook them by calling them “radicals.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper: "Beto O'Rourke raised some eyebrows by saying 'Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47' at the debate… Did Beto O'Rourke say something that's playing into the hands of Republicans?"
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) September 15, 2019
“If it’s true that we embrace a far left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch crazy socialists,” said Mayor Pete in July. “If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. So let’s stand up for the right policy, go up there and defend it.”
Well, if you’re a gun-grabber, that’s exactly what Beto’s doing. And if you believe the polling on gun control, most of the party is with him on buybacks. So why shouldn’t they follow the Boot Edge Edge approach to guns by “standing up for the right policy” and letting the chips fall where they may?
This is surprising in another way too: Buttigieg has worked hard to present himself as the face of generational left-wing change within the party. That was shaping up to be Beto’s role in the primary until Buttigieg swooped in this past spring and stole his thunder, bouncing out to a steady 5-8 percent in Democratic polling that O’Rourke himself hasn’t approached in months. Beto’s “f*** it, let’s confiscate assault weapons” pitch is an obvious attempt to reclaim some of that thunder by signaling to young lefties that he’ll fight unapologetically for their cultural priorities. You would think that would be Mayor Pete’s cue to go easy on O’Rourke on a question like this, e.g., “I’m not sure America’s ready for a buyback plan yet but I share Beto’s frustrations and want more aggressive action in Congress.” But no, he’s very clear here that he thinks this is a mistake, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good by giving Trump a reason to bail out of gun-control negotiations when there’s at least a glimmer of hope of passing red-flag laws or expanded background checks.
Even stranger, he almost (sort of) credits Trump and McConnell in his answer for engaging on the subject, claiming that they’re at least “pretending” to be interested in it. Rule one of Democratic politics in 2020: Do not credit Trump or McConnell with good faith in anything ever. Not even with “pretending” in good faith. Beto noticed that and slammed Buttigieg in a tweet, writing, “Leaving millions of weapons of war on the streets because Trump and McConnell are ‘at least pretending to be open to reforms’? That calculation and fear is what got us here in the first place. Let’s have the courage to say what we believe and fight for it.” Then for good measure he posted this clip replete with his signature love-your-passion profanity:
When candidates say, "At least Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are pretending to be interested," shit, that is not enough. Neither is poll-testing your message. Gun violence is a life or death issue—and we have to represent the bold ideas of people all over the country. pic.twitter.com/jE2uiXaENZ
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 15, 2019
All Buttigieg means when he credits Trump and McConnell for “pretending” is that their pretense is evidence that they’re feeling meaningful political pressure to do something on guns. Even Republican leaders seem compelled to pander (a bit) to gun-grabbers right now by holding themselves out as open to proposals. Beto swooping in and demanding confiscation instead of background checks risks blowing that up by giving gun-rights supporters new reason to fear giving an inch to the left, which could kill any small momentum towards compromise. Even the lead sponsor on the House’s assault-weapons-ban bill, Dem Rep. David Cicilline, thinks Beto crapped the bed by taking the extra step towards outright confiscation. If gun-control legislation collapses in Congress, as everyone expects it will, I wonder how much blame Beto will take and whether that’ll kill any polling bounce he may or may not be getting from his call for a buyback.,
As for Mayor Pete, his caution here may be evidence that he’s turning more realistic about his chances at the nomination. He’s a man of the left but he’s also native to Indiana. If he doesn’t end up in a new Democratic president’s cabinet he’ll be stuck looking for routes to higher office in a reliably red state where gun confiscation would be destined to play poorly. His best opportunity may be to challenge Todd Young for Senate in 2022 *if* Trump wins reelection and the next midterms start shaping up to be even more Democrat-friendly than the last ones did. (That’d still be no guarantee in Indiana; remember that GOP challenger Mike Braun unseated Dem incumbent Joe Donnelly there last year, winning by six points.) A basic prerequisite for a statewide Democratic candidate in Indiana is *not* to be radical on guns, so that’s the box Boot Edge Edge is checking here. On this issue and maybe only on this issue, Beto’s the radical, not Mayor Pete. Maybe Indiana swing voters will remember.