In the midst of the Iowa caucus disaster last night, Mayor Pete Buttigieg came out before a crowd and declared victory. At least that’s what it sounded like to many observers at the time.

“What a night! Because tonight an improbably hope became an undeniable reality,” Buttigieg said. At this point, the crowd began chanting his name “Boot-Edge-Edge-Boot-Edge-Edge.”

He continued, “So we don’t know all the results but we know by the time it’s all said and done—Iowa, you have shocked the nation…because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”

Sounds like a declaration of victory to me and it certainly did to the assembled crowd which began chanting, “Pete! Pete! Pete!” But as I write this, we still don’t know who won Iowa. Sanders has released some numbers suggesting he is winning with Mayor Pete in 2nd place. But Buttigieg’s campaign released numbers showing Pete in the lead. From CNBC:

Data released late Monday by Sen. Bernie Sanders reflected 40% of precincts and appeared to show Buttigieg in second place, with about 26% share of state delegate equivalents, compared with about 29% for Sanders.

“Let me begin by stating that I imagine, have a strong feeling, that at some point the results will be announced,” Sanders said to cheering supporters Monday night. “And when those results are announced I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well in Iowa.”…

A Buttigieg campaign aide told CNBC that data provided by 77% of the campaign’s precinct captains showed Buttigieg in the lead. The campaign aide said that internal projections prior to the caucus suggested that the race would be a tie, but that the internal numbers so far showed Buttigieg performing 8 percentage points better than expected, enough to win first place.

Today, Buttigieg is making the rounds on television and being asked about the results. CBS This Morning host Gayle King asked Buttigieg how he could declare victory “when the official results are not in.” “Shouldn’t you wait?” she asked.

“Well, we have the results from our organization and if you look at what we were able to do, what happened last night, the fact that this campaign was able to gather support in urban, suburban, and rural areas alike, in counties that Hillary Clinton won, counties that Donald Trump won—we are thrilled and absolutely consider that a victory,” he replied.

Asked again if he was premature in using “the v-word” Buttigieg said, “Looking at what happened last night, looking at all of the data that we’ve got, it was an extraordinary night and we are absolutely victorious coming into New Hampshire.”

So does “victorious” mean he won or simply that he exceeded expectations? It’s not quite clear.

Buttigieg also appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe where he was asked by co-host Willie Geist why he decided to declare victory. Buttigieg replied, “Well, we were looking at the internal numbers that we had and beginning to realize that something extraordinary had happened last night. I mean here you have a campaign that was really questioned when we first got in for whether we really ought to be here, whether we belonged in this race. And to not only establish that but to reach the position that we did was a clear victory for this campaign.”

What position was that exactly?

A bit later he added, “We wanted to see those results last night so we could address our supporters with a firm, official count in hand. Instead we’re waiting on the party to come through with those official numbers and, at the same time, we know for the road ahead that we are arriving here [in New Hampshire] with the extraordinary momentum of having beaten every expectation in the state of Iowa. And that’s why I was able to say with confidence when we were getting on that plane we were victorious.” Here’s the clip:

And here’s one more from CNN. He’s asked if this is just a moral victory of some kind and refuses to say whether that’s all it is. He does say that he has “the momentum” which may even be true but is still not the same thing as victory.

Mayor Pete is by all accounts a smart guy but it appears to me he’s taking quite a risk. If it turns out he did win Iowa then his own statements about shocking the nation will prove correct. In fact, if he won then it’s fair to say he was robbed of a day in which his victory would have been the only thing anyone was talking about on television.

However, if it turns out he came in 2nd or 3rd place then I think he’s going to get some serious backlash. Specifically, the Bernie Bros are going to be savage if their candidate actually won and yet Buttigieg declared victory. They will not let him forget it for the rest of this campaign. It will launch a thousand of bitter memes. And that could overshadow the fact that he actually did pretty well.

For instance, if he’s in second place behind Sanders, that means he beat both Biden and Warren, which really would be a tremendous result for him. But by overstating it a bit, he may wind up backpedaling instead of moving forward. Again, it seems like a big risk. We’ll have to wait a few more hours to see if he was correct about a stunning victory or if he was exaggerating a bit. Meanwhile, here’s his speech from last night: