An unknown mayor from a tiny city enters the race for president, enchants a legion of voters, raises a fortune in campaign contributions, defies the conventional wisdom and blows past the established front-runners to take the lead in
the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Maybe we're missing something, but that seems like a pretty big story.
Yet for reasons that are far from clear, the media is begrudging Pete Buttigieg the star-is-born-treatment. The coverage of the South Bend mayor more often reads like a post-mortem on his campaign.
Stories picking apart his support are impossible to avoid.
don’t like him;
don’t like him;
don’t like him;
don’t like him. Who are you going to believe, reporters seem to be saying - us or your own eyes?
Buttigieg’s surprising success in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls gets little respect. “Iowa is practically engineered for Buttigieg to succeed,” Clare Malone of
Brian Lehrer last month. “It’s white and college educated.”
New York Times
recently ran what seemed like its
about Buttigieg’s lack of support in the African American community. “Mr. Buttigieg has failed to demonstrate even minimal support among African-Americans and Hispanics, critical voting blocs that will have a much larger say after Iowa and New Hampshire, and their nearly all-white electorates,” reported Reid Epstein.
It’s a point that has been made so frequently you’d think the South Carolina primary was upon us. But it’s not.
It’s undeniable that Buttigieg has a hill to climb when it comes to the black vote. But it is equally undeniable that Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar have even
black support. And that winning Iowa and New Hampshire would almost certainly change the chemistry of the race.
The relentless refrain about Mayor Pete's poll numbers among African Americans is threatening to become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Reporters now routinely scour his comments for racial landmines. He has been
(as criticizing Obama, which he did not) and misconstrued for what he said in a
, when he allegedly equated his experience of being gay with the experience of black people.
That’s not what happened. That’s not what he said,”
Jonathan Capehart in his defense, refusing to
drag someone for using their own experience to build a bridge of empathy, openness and awareness to try to help make the lives of others better.”
ournalists simply seem annoyed at Buttigieg’s success. A few weeks back,
Epstein and Lisa Lerer
all but called him
a snot-nosed jerk.
“More than a dozen participants in the Democratic campaign — including rival candidates and campaign aides — spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss their views about Mr. Buttigieg candidly,” they wrote. "They conveyed an annoyance at the McKinsey consultant certitude with which Mr. Buttigieg analyzes and makes pronouncements about the primary.”
And all it took to unearth this news was a grant of anonymity.
Some of the more withering critiques have come from LGBT writers, who have carried on a running debate about whether Buttigieg is the wrong kind of gay. “Heterosexuality Without Women” was Yale professor Greta LaFleur’s eyebrow-raising
of Buttigieg's style.
a two-year-old photo
surfaced of the mayor at a charity initiative for the Salvation Army. It was treated by some activists as the smoking gun in an investigation into bad gays.
“I can't help but wonder if Mayor Pete just looks at what LGBTQ activists have been working on for years and then chooses to spite it,” tweeted Zach Ford, a little-known advocate for judicial reform whose comment was picked up in the national press to illustrate gay outrage.
Writing for the
, George M. Johnson
that Buttigieg’s African-American problem had nothing to do with his sexual orientation.
“Mayor Pete has had a meteoric rise while being mediocre at best,” he wrote. “His policies either harm the marginalized or simply don’t exist.”
Or maybe he’s just not liberal enough for the gay left.
In a much-discussed
piece, Jim Downs
“Type A, politically driven, never-take-their-eye-off-the-ball gays—a group of which Pete Buttigieg is an extreme example.”
But you don’t have to be gay to resent his success. Molly Roberts in the
all but spat upon
Buttigieg’s “page-spilling résumé,” which includes a Rhodes scholarship, stint in the military and a Harvard education.
Buttigieg hasn’t managed to convince many young Americans that he stands for anything other than ambition, with a stale side of duty,” wrote Roberts (a Harvard graduate!) “And until he does, those Americans will see in him the scariest thing of all: the hollowness of our own achievement culture staring back at us from the mirror.”
Success. So uncool.
Some of the criticism of Buttigieg is fair game. His shaky record on race relations and policing in South Bend in particular is a critical aspect of his career.
But the continuous sniping is frustrating, primarily because there seems to be no underlying coherence to it. The bad press comes from a hodgepodge of missteps real or imagined, fueled by disparate critics who
don’t like him for whatever reason, be it his personality, policies, age, class, sexuality or success. None of this adds up to a storyline worthy of so much attention.
Buttigieg may be on a trajectory toward an historic achievement in the early primaries – he would be the first openly gay presidential candidate ever to win Iowa or New Hampshire (and probably the youngest as well).
If he succeeds, winning the two contests could catapult him to success in the later primaries. Or maybe it won't. But this all seems like a major story to us. Sooner or later, we hope reporters will get around to writing it.