Is Pete Buttigieg really surging?
The latest polls out of Iowa show him at 13%, just a few points behind front-runners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
Apparently, that’s enough for the mainstream media to tout “Mayor Pete,” as he is affectionately known, as a legitimate “first-tier” contender in the race for the Democratic presidential candidate nomination in 2020
This is hardly a new phenomenon. A few months ago, the same media was touting Kamala Harris as its “It” Girl.” Harris managed to sucker punch Joe Biden at the Democrats’ first televised debate.
Harris said Biden’s lack of support for forced busing back in the 1960s showed that he wasn’t really committed to civil rights.
Everybody, including Harris, knew this was utter nonsense but it made for good theater, and for a while, Harris surged.
But it didn’t last. In fact, Harris is fast becoming an also-ran.
Buttigieg is coming off a strong performance in last week’s debate. He took on Warren over her faulty Medicare for All proposal while back-handing Tulsi Gabbard for supporting President Trump’s Syrian troop withdrawal
In fact, most media organs – from the mainstream Washington Post and CNN to conservative Fox News and National Review – were effusive in their praise of Buttigieg’s performance.
“From beginning to end, Buttigieg was a dominant and commanding force,” gushed the Post’s Chris Cilizza. Jim Geraghty of National Review called him “the relaxed voice of reason.”
Buttigieg — on paper at least — has several virtues including his former military service in Iraq and his successful executive stewardship as the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a potential swing state in 2020.
In a field that’s come to be defined on the hand by “progressives” like Harris, Warren and Bernie Sanders, and old establishment figures like Biden on the other, Buttigieg has stood out as a fresh and youthful face that brings renewed passion to decidedly moderate policy positions.
And if anything, his status as the first openly gay presidential candidate in American history has given his candidacy its own special panache.
Some conservatives have already criticized the news media for exaggerating Buttigieg’s prospects.
Krystal Ball noted: “The theory of the case being offered by Pete’s campaign and various uncritically thinking pundits is that as Biden fades, Pete will benefit. After all, they are both moderates and so moderate voters leaving Biden will create a visual data analysis of similarly moderate candidates, and circle the nearest like-minded compatriot.”
In truth, Biden and Buttigieg have virtually no support bases in common. Biden has overwhelming support among African-Americans and Buttieig, even more, than Warren has zero Black support.
Some White Democrats that favor Biden may be taking a fresh look at Buttigieg, but in fact, the biggest defection to Buttigieg is coming from young voters who have favored Bernie Sanders for the most part.
So this is less about policy than it is about generational appeal. Buttigieg, at 39, is the youngest candidate in the race by far. Some find his renewed display of passion and charisma refreshing – Iowa voters especially.
But let’s be real. How significant is an overnight jump from 6% to 13% in a single caucus state?
Media organs do tend to search for fresh news – or a compelling new narrative — in every twist and turn of the Democratic primary race, if only to sell the advertising that keeps their own corporate coffers filled.
As we saw with Harris, exaggerating a candidate’s prospects based, in some cases, on a single exchange or set of exchanges with other candidates, is highly misleading, especially this far out from the first primary contest.
There’s one statistic from the primary race that may speak louder than others. How many of those that say they favor a particular candidate could still change their preference?
An overwhelming two-thirds of Democratic voters say they still haven’t made up their minds.
That should be sobering news for those that insist on treating the Democratic primary contest like a disciplined horserace – rather than a sloppy, ever-changing mud-wrestle.
It’s still October, and the candidates haven’t descended into the gutter yet. Stay tuned: The worst is yet to come.