December 10, 2019

The Appeal of the New Guy

“Mayor Pete is having his moment — for the second time in the campaign. Surging to the head of the pack in a recent Iowa poll, and edging out Vice President Joe Biden in last quarter’s money race, Buttigieg is staking his claim to being the goldilocks candidate for president who can appeal to both moderates and progressives — not to mention being half the age of the three national poll leaders.

Buttigieg’s rise is a clear testament to his substantial political talents. But it has also prompted sputtering disbelief from the many other candidates with vastly more experience who can make similar claims to having found the ideological sweet spot but who have languished in the low single digits in national and most early-state polls. Cory Booker achieved national recognition as the mayor of Newark before becoming New Jersey’s junior senator. Steve Bullock was a popular two-term Democratic governor of deep-red Montana. Three-term senator Amy Klobuchar is far more popular in her electorally-crucial Midwestern home state than most national Democrats, and was also rated the most productive senator in a generally gridlocked Congress. The Democrats hardly lack for options if they aren’t happy with the front-runners. And if they aren’t happy with those alternatives either, there are plenty of other options still eager to jump into the race — as Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg made abundantly clear over the past several days. Why on Earth would they choose the mayor of South Bend, Indiana?

But perhaps this has it backwards. Perhaps Buttigieg isn’t rising despite his lack of traditional qualifications for the office, but in part because of them.

Consider: When was the last time the more experienced candidate won the presidency? The answer: 1988, over thirty years ago. Since the end of the Cold War, the less-experienced candidate has won every time. First-term Sen. Barack Obama trounced veteran Sen. John McCain, and political neophyte Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, touted as the best-prepared candidate ever to run. In 2000 an incumbent vice president faced off against the son of a former president, and the result was a virtual tie.”

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