An earlier post today noted my worries about Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in a general election against Donald Trump. The same applies to Bernie Sanders who appears a significantly weakened candidate in the wake of his heart attack. While I have not picked my favorite candidate, I am certainly paying attention to Pete Buttigieg who, as USA Today has noted is rising significantly in the polls:
Buttigieg has vaulted himself into the top tier of candidates on the back of a convincing debate performance, according to today’s Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll . . . Here’s where the race stands in Iowa: Former Vice President Joe Biden (19%) leads Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (18%), with Buttigieg capturing 13%, Sanders receiving 9%, and billionaire Tom Steyer, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and California Sen. Kamala Harris all tied at 3%. . . .
Among only debate watchers, Buttigieg topped the entire Iowa field with 19%, followed by Biden and Warren (tied at 17%), Sanders (9%), and Klobuchar (6%). Both Buttigieg (39%) and Klobuchar (28%) were seen as debate winners last week.
Yes, Buttigieg is young - so were many of the Founding Fathers at the time of the American Revolution - and gay, which means hard core Trump voters would not vote for him. Neither would they vote for Warren, Biden or any of the other Democrat Candidates. He does, however, have the ability to attract non-aligned moderates and even some Republicans with his adult in the room approach to health care reform and foreign policy. A column in the Washington Post looks at this aspect of Buttigieg's policy positions and impressive speaking skills. Here are highlights:
The youngest candidate in the Democratic field [Pete Buttigieg], the one with no civilian experience above the position of mayor, is leading the debate on Syria and pushing one of the top-tier candidates to rethink a major strategic decision.
Buttigieg was on CNN and “Fox News Sunday” expounding on Syria. He told Fox News’s Chris Wallace:
When it comes to what is being done to not just the Middle East, for example, but to American credibility. The fact that right now people who put their lives on the line, trusting that the United States would have their back, and are now betrayed, the fact that U.S. troops in the field feel that their honor has been stolen from them by their commander in chief, how can you not be fired up about something like that?
It is worth underscoring that Buttigieg does not get many Brownie points in a Democratic primary for making a robust defense of U.S. leadership in the Middle East.
. . . Buttigieg has decided to be the grown-up, and incidentally, preserved his viability in the general election as sufficiently tough on national security.
Buttigieg candidly told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he wasn’t going to play the game of promising an immediate pullout:
We know that we need to promote stability, that we need to stand by our allies and that there will be legitimate Turkish security concerns that will also be part of the equation. But right now what’s happening is the future over there is being decided by everybody but the United States. Russia, Iran, Turkey. . . . the first order of business will be to restore U.S. credibility. Not just with regard to the Middle East but globally.
And he showed restraint when offered the opening to threaten to kick Turkey out of NATO:
Well, right now what we’ve got to do is engage Turkey as an ally. You know, I served alongside Turkish troops in Afghanistan. That alliance is important. And it’s leverage for us to make sure that we use our influence to prevent bad outcomes like the one that Donald Trump greenlighted that they’re doing right now. If they don’t act like an ally in the long-run, that’s going to have consequences.
Buttigieg declined to join Warren and others who have cheered for an immediate pullout from Afghanistan. . . . . Buttigieg pointed out, a lighter footprint with counter-terrorism capacity is “exactly what we had in Syria. A matter of just a few dozen troops, special operators in just the right places, making it possible to prevent the descent into chaos we’re seeing now. So you see, what was withdrawn from Syria is exactly the sort of thing that if we had it in Afghanistan would prevent endless war of the scale that we’re seeing now.”
On Fox News, Buttigieg again pitched an alternate path to Medicare-for-all:
I think that we have a chance to build an American majority around bold action. But it is the case that we could wreck that majority through purity tests. Look, take the example of this Medicare question. I’m proposing Medicare for all who want it. It means we create a version of Medicare, everybody can get access to it, and if you get — if you want to keep your private plan, we’re okay with that. I think that’s a better policy than kicking people off of their plan.
[O]n “Meet the Press,” he pointed out that “my plan is paid for. And we have an opportunity to get everybody health care without kicking people off their private plans and without the multitrillion-dollar hole that appears to be there, unexplained, in Sen. Warren’s plan.”
If Buttigieg is trying to position himself as the younger, more verbally adept moderate in the Democratic race, pushing Warren around and defending an internationalist foreign policy might earn him a starring role. As he shows command of policy and of the debate stage, he is making the case for his viability in the primary. And he implicitly is demonstrating that his cool, deliberate style would be a huge asset against Trump in the general election. A candidate who can go on any talk show and run a “straight-talk express” kind of bus tour with the media is one confident in his ability to be his own best advocate.
If Warren does come forward with details on her Medicare-for-all plan, Buttigieg can claim victory. Then, perhaps, he can get her to explain why it is so necessary to eliminate choice for Americans (if expanded Medicare is so great, they’ll select that under the public option) and how she is going to seamlessly reconfigure our entire health-care insurance system, going from primarily private to exclusively public payment.
Buttigieg is not the only candidate advocating a responsible internationalist role in the world, nor the only one challenging Warren. He might, however, have been the most effective and might the biggest impression with primary voters.