I can tell you all the reasons why Pete Buttigieg shouldn’t run for president.
First, there’s the fact that a bunch of you are now saying: Butti-Who?
Then there’s the fact that he’s the mayor of South Bend—a city of about 100,000 people. Not exactly a power base, and no one has jumped directly from a mayor’s office to the Oval Office.
Throw in that he’d be the first openly gay man to be president, with his husband the first man in the spouse’s role; he got clobbered in his only statewide race, a 2010 run for treasurer; he has no campaign war chest.
But I can also tell you why Buttigieg is most definitely considering a run for president — and I believe has already made the decision to join a bulging Democratic field.
He’s smart, a graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities. He’s a U.S. Naval Reserve veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was the pick of every former Democratic National Committee chairman to win that job last year, wowing activists even as he lost. He’s had a flood of glowing national profiles that use words like “wunderkind.” And his name was among only four former President Barack Obama cited as representing the future of the Democratic Party.
It’s practically a law that you can’t run for president without authoring a biography/policy book and Buttigieg’s comes out Feb. 12, “The Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and A Model for America’s Future.” (If that doesn’t sound like a campaign stump speech, I don’t know what does.)
Wednesday, squeezing in a quick call as he drove between mayoral stops in South Bend, Buttigieg would admit only to “getting close” to a decision. The questions he’s weighing aren’t about fundraising or polling.
“To me the process of determining to run for office in this moment is: Do the needs of the office match what you bring to it?” Buttigieg said. “It’s asking whether what you bring to the table is different.”
Some of his differences are obvious. And at 36, he’d be the youngest nominee for president ever taking on the oldest president. But he’s also a white man facing a Democratic base that in 2018 supported more women and people of color than ever before. Still, more than anything Democrats are looking for someone who can beat Donald Trump. Buttigieg is an unapologetic progressive who can sway those who wanted Bernie Sanders in 2016. And his story — turning around a dying city lamenting the past by helping them reach for the future — may win over the swing voters who didn’t see Hillary Clinton as someone in touch with their lives.
“We need more voices from the middle of the country,” Buttigieg said. “This is a part of the country that Democrats to our dismay lost touch with in recent years. I have very high regard for a number of leaders in our party who are from the coasts. But I think it would be a terrible mistake if the only faces our party put forward were people in federal office who come from the east or west coasts.”
Buttigieg thinks some misconstrued the lessons of the 2016 election. “There’s this theory that our part of the country is all about nostalgia and resentment, and I don’t think that’s true.”
But they do want to thrive again. His message: “To recapture what made the innovators of the early 20thcentury so productive … one of the things we have to do is emulate the fact that their focus was on the future, not the past.”
Buttigieg said Democrats will be tempted in the 2020 election “to talk about a restoration of normalcy. We’re going to want to come out and say, ‘this is just chaotic, it’s exhausting, let’s go back to where we were before, let’s have it be like 2009.’ If there weren’t some real deficiencies with the way things have been in the past, we never would have gotten to the messed-up state we’re in in the present.”
He doesn’t mention Trump, but his message is clear: A winning campaign has to be more than anti-Trump; it has to lay out a vision for the future.
He’s a long shot, of course. But in 1975 I sat on a couch at the University of Illinois student union, one of only four or five students who came to meet a candidate for president. His name was Jimmy Carter.
Mary Beth Schneider is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.