Like so many others who run for president, Pete Buttigieg’s official announcement yesterday came as an anti-climax after having telegraphed the move for weeks if not months. “They call me Mayor Pete,” the Democrat told a home-town crowd, highlighting his “audacity” at running an outsider campaign for the nomination at his young age.
The actual surprise came in another direction entirely:
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, officially announced his presidential bid Sunday afternoon, hoping to make history as the youngest-ever, and the first-ever openly gay, commander in chief.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd inside a downtown tech hub that had once been the home of a long-ago-shuttered Studebaker car factory, Buttigieg promised to bring to the country the kind of change and innovation he’d helped to instill in his native South Bend.
“My name is Pete Buttigieg. They call me Mayor Pete. I am a proud son of South Bend, Indiana. And I am running for President of the United States,” he said, prompting a wave of adoring screams from the crowd. “I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor. More than a little bold — at age 37— to seek the highest office in the land.”
CNN was pretty impressed with the “electric” atmosphere. Vanessa Yurkevich notes that the only really surprising development was that Buttigieg avoided talking about Pence in his launch speech. Alex Burns calls him a “generational change agent” that threatens the ambitions of Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders:
Pete Buttigieg officially launched his presidential campaign on Sunday, vaulting the South Bend mayor into the large — and growing — field of Democrats hoping to take on President Trump in 2020 https://t.co/Tonuh6sBsI pic.twitter.com/ykWDB3FywB
— CNN (@CNN) April 15, 2019
If that’s the case, and it’s way too early to reach that conclusion, then all that highlights is the weakness of the rest of the Democratic field. What does that remind us of? Perhaps the primaries from four years ago on the other side of the aisle? Hmmm. Burns’ note at the end that Buttigieg has no apologies for his vague and superficial approach to policy only makes that comparison to Donald Trump’s lightning-in-a-bottle campaign a little more compelling.
Of course, it’s also easy to compare Buttigieg to others from 2016 and 2012 too, for that matter. Remember Carly-mania, for instance? In the last two competitive Republican cycles, practically every candidate had at least one polling surge, only to fade away quickly after their novelty wore thin with primary voters. Buttigieg fits that model more than he does the Trump model. It seems doubtful that “Mayor Pete” gives Kamala and Bernie many sleepless nights, at least for now.
Or maybe he’s causing someone a sleepless night or two. It’s hardly a coincidence that this bomb dropped within hours of Buttigieg’s official entry into the race:
Pete Buttigieg’s meteoric rise as a presidential candidate is putting a spotlight on his years as mayor of South Bend, Ind., including his demotion of an African American police chief.
An Indiana judge will rule soon on whether to release five cassette tapes of secretly recorded conversations between South Bend police officers that led to the 2012 demotion of Police Chief Darryl Boykins, the city’s first ever black police chief.
The South Bend City Council subpoenaed Buttigieg to win release of the tapes, which were at the center of a police department shake-up and a series of lawsuits.
Buttigieg’s critics say he’s gone to great lengths to conceal the contents of the tapes, which some believe could include racist language by white police officers.
That hits Buttigieg right in his identity-politics wheelhouse. Rather than have the focus be on his sexuality (and Mike Pence’s supposed hostility toward him), suddenly Mayor Pete looks like an “All Lives Matter” reactionary. It probably doesn’t help that Buttigieg actually did say “all lives matter” in response to the South Bend police controversy, for which he apologized earlier this month:
Rising Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg now regrets saying “All Lives Matter” in a 2015 speech addressing two local police controversies in South Bend, Indiana.
“What I did not understand at that time was that that phrase just early, into mid-, especially 2015 was coming to be viewed as a sort of counter slogan to Black Lives Matter,” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, told reporters at the National Action Network convention in New York, an annual gathering of black voters hosted by Al Sharpton.
A dozen 2020 presidential candidates were in attendance to address NAN and reach out to black voters — a crucial bloc for Democrats that saw a record drop in turnout in 2016.
“And so this statement that seems anodyne and something no one could be against actually wound up being used to devalue what the Black Lives Matter movement was telling us, which is what we needed to hear because unfortunately, it was not obvious to everybody that black lives were being valued the same,” he said.
Buttigieg should be flattered. He’s getting treated like a serious candidate by at least one rival campaign with an oppo research team that knows what it’s doing. We’ll see if the media bites hard on the secret tapes of South Bend now that Buttigieg has officially entered the race, or better yet, whether Trump himself starts taking potshots at Buttigieg over them. Republicans can pass the popcorn in the meantime as Democrats play for keeps in the primary, but they’d better be prepared to face off against the Democratic Thunderdome survivor.