Mayor Pete Buttigieg Makes or Breaks his Candidacy, Tonight

Dylan Palmer | United States

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, may be the most interesting candidate to watch in tonight’s second Democratic Debate. Leading up to today he’s talked big game and high ideals. Buttigieg has separated himself from the rest of the field with his hopeful rhetoric, energetic youth, and grass-roots working-class appeal. However, in the aftermath of the first Democratic Debate in which virtually every candidate jumped frantically from scripted talking point to scripted talking point, he has a decision to make.

Will he continue his authentic style, or fall to the pressures of the debate stage, like so many before him? It’s not easy to engage in thoughtful reflection when funneled into a one minute or 30-second time slot for a response. Yet, Buttigieg has built his brand on being the only gay, Harvard graduate, Rhode Scholar, US military veteran in the race. In other words, he’s built his brand on being a worldly, intellectual politician.

If he can pull off appearing authentic, chilled, and thoughtful, he truly has nowhere to go but up. His initial spike in the polls was a product of his optics and temperament. If he can take that to a wider stage, it’ll only amplify his popularity. It may not indenture him as much with the rabid progressive base, but normal liberals and moderates will adore him.

In the event that he follows that progressive base, though, things could go down-hill for Mayor Pete. He’s already shown willingness to play their puppet, most notably through repeated attacks on VP Mike Pence over perceived homophobia. This is despite a history of quite amiable relations between the two men before Buttigieg announced his candidacy. Progressive pandering would likely be a losing tact for Buttigieg, as he can never hope to outflank the entrenched Bernie Sanders, or even Elizabeth Warren, from the left. In short, Buttigieg’s only path is through the middle.

This could be a do or die moment for Mayor Pete. Does he stick with his current proven tact, hoping to take it to a wider audience, or fall prey to the coercion of debate rules, and the siren’s call of the Democrat’s progressive wing? Only time will tell.

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