The Democrats are searching for their next Barack Obama, and with good reason: when the then-little-known U.S. Senator from Illinois burst onto the national landscape sometime around 2006, it really was the start of something special. Obama-bashers will read this and growl, just as Trump-bashers do every time I call him a political superstar, but reality is what it is, not what we would necessarily like it to be.
Over the past 100 years, we’ve had seven Democratic presidents and ten Republicans. Of those, five of the Democrats initially entered the presidency by winning an election (the others after the death of a president in office), as did eight of the Republicans.
Of those eight Republicans, only three were political superstars. Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Trump. The others were rather milquetoast with occasional flashes of pizzazz – some more so than others. But four of the five Democrats were political superstars: Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Obama. The only Democrat in the mix to capture the White House without basking in charisma was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Not-so-coincidentally, his victory was largely a rejection of incumbent Gerald Ford, the Republican who two years earlier pardoned his own predecessor, Richard Nixon, for any future charges that might be brought against him for Watergate, the scandal that prompted Nixon to resign ahead of pending impeachment. Perhaps that will shed light on why the Democrats are so hell-bent on impeaching Trump this time around; history reveals that’s the only way they can win if they don’t have a bona fide superstar to nominate – but that’s another story.
As of this writing, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg has surged ahead of U.S. Senator (MA) Elizabeth Warren in polls of the first state to hold a 2020 primary (actually, a caucus), Iowa. Some will dismiss that statistic because Iowa is known to buck the national trend when it comes to presidential party nominees – but that’s only half true. Whereas Republicans tend to nominate a general election candidate different from the Iowa winner – the last three elections being prime examples – Iowa Democrats haven’t bucked the national trend since Tom Harkin won there in 1992. Importantly, Harkin was a sitting U.S. senator from that state, and essentially no top contenders even bothered to compete in Iowa that year.
Therefore, if the polls are to be trusted, Mayor Pete (as Buttigieg is commonly called) has an excellent chance of winning Iowa and rising nationally as a result. Though it is far too early to tell with candidates actually jumping into the race as quickly as others are dropping out, Buttigieg now has as good a chance as any other Democrat to go to the convention next summer. So it’s not too early to take a closer look at him.
Two factors that stand out about Buttigieg in many voters’ minds are ones that should matter the least, but probably matter a great deal: he’s very young by presidential standards (only 37 and looks even younger), and he’s married to a man. That “President-elect Buttigieg” would turn 38 a day before he is inaugurated seems less important when considering that Theodore Roosevelt and Kennedy – both are consistently rated highly by historians – were 42 and 43, respectively, when they took office. Moreover, George Washington was only 44 when he led the United States to victory in the American Revolution and was dubbed the father of our country, and Thomas Jefferson was just 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Granted, young men arguably had far more gravitas in those days, but watching Mayor Pete on that debate stage with his fellow Democratic hopefuls, he and Tulsi Gabbard (38) seem like the most mature of all.
On June 16, 2018, Buttigieg married his fiance, Chasten Glezman, who has taken his husband’s surname. If elected president, Buttigieg and his husband would be America’s first gay First Couple and no doubt would openly hold hands, perhaps kiss on the lips, and close-dance together at a series of Inaugural balls. The gender of one’s spouse does not affect a president’s ability to lead effectively, but many reading these very words know that even with same sex marriage becoming more and more commonplace, tens of millions of Americans are still not ready at all for those optics – particularly from their president.
Turning to more substantive issues, Buttigieg has some non-progressive qualities: he’s an Afghanistan combat veteran and unabashedly devout Christian, for instance. But his campaign page (peteforamerica.com) mentions virtually nothing about fighting illegal immigration and crime and only that we need to expand immigration opportunities and reduce the number of people incarcerated. He supports the exorbitantly expensive Green New Deal and essentially Medicare for All Deferred, a twist on Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ plans, insofar as Mayor Pete would allow for private insurance to remain, with the expectation that it would eventually force everyone into a public option.
As Democrats search for their next Obama (as I always said, contrary to what the bashers think, he was more a centrist than a leftist), in Buttigieg they have a candidate not as close to the political middle and not nearly as capable of captivating followers by the millions. Yet where Obama was long on flash, Mayor Pete may be stronger on substance. His webpage is chock full of innovative ideas. Like our current president, he is an outside-the-box thinker but, starkly differently, he is gentle in tone.
Perhaps nothing else demonstrates that Buttigieg is the smartest Democratic candidate of all than that his campaign message rarely includes the words “Donald Trump.” As I’ve often said, the best way to defeat Trump (not that I’d want that to happen) is to ignore him. Let’s see if Mayor Pete has the composure to resist taking Trump’s bait. None of the other Democrats have, which is why they hopelessly remain marionettes dancing on Trump’s string.