Squeezed on both ends, from populists raising large sums from small donors and plutocrats writing themselves mammoth checks, Buttigieg’s big donor strategy—which had propelled Mondale, Dukakis, and Clinton to their party’s nomination—left him without enough cash to effectively compete in the 14 states that vote on Tuesday.
The other shift that doomed Buttigieg’s campaign involves race. It is now conventional wisdom that Democratic candidates cannot—and should not—win their party’s nomination without demonstrating significant African American support and a genuine commitment to racial justice. But that wasn’t always the case. Dukakis won the Democratic nomination in 1988 despite having “largely ceded the black vote to [Jesse] Jackson for most of the primary season.” Coming from Arkansas, Bill Clinton in 1992 enjoyed stronger personal ties to African Americans than Dukakis had. But he also pandered to white racists—flying back to Arkansas days before the Iowa Caucuses to approve the execution of a mentally disabled African American man—in ways that would be almost unthinkable in a Democratic primary today. As late as 2004, John Kerry struggled to connect with black voters. “There’s no doubt that John Kerry has not captured the hearts of African-Americans the way Clinton did,” explained an Illinois Senate candidate named Barack Obama in 2004. But Kerry won the Democratic nomination, nonetheless.
Since then, the Democratic Party’s expectations surrounding race—like its expectations surrounding money—have dramatically changed, at Buttigieg’s expense.