Pete Buttigieg Struggles to Shed ‘Old Normal’ Without Ditching Barack Obama

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (R) is interviewed by former Obama Administration officials Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor during the J Street National Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center October 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. Buttigieg and three …
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Pete Buttigieg wants to dismiss the “old normal” of politics and run as a change candidate, but the 37-year-old mayor is struggling to avoid including former President Barack Obama in that equation.

The campaign mobilized against Los Angeles Times reporter Evan Halper for mistakenly quoting Buttigig as referring to the “failures of the Obama era” on the campaign trail, a quote weaponized by his political rivals to damage his campaign.

The snafu prompted Buttigieg to recommit his support for the former president on Twitter.

“My appreciation of the great leadership of Barack Obama comes from a very personal place,” he wrote on Twitter.

But Buttigieg’s line about the “failures of the old normal” include former President Obama, which he reminds political audiences, led to the Trump presidency.

The South Bend mayor also spoke about Obama during a conversation with journalist John Heilemann about his campaign.

“I also don’t believe we can go back, I don’t think there’s going back to Obama, I don’t think there’s going back to Clinton,” he said in a clip posted by Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher on Twitter.

In November, Buttigieg even claimed he had more executive experience than Obama did in 2007 when he ran for president.

“He had more national exposure sooner than I did. But then I have the benefit of executive experience. So I guess we’re just different,” he told the Atlantic.

Since announcing his presidential campaign, Buttigieg has tried to emphasize the contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden (and current senators) by arguing to voters they are part of a “normal” political system that produced President Donald Trump.

“We are not going to be able to meet this moment by recycling the same arguments, policies, and politicians that have dominated Washington for as long as I have been alive,” Buttigieg said in the first night of the Democrat presidential primary debates in July. “We’ve got to summon the courage to walk away from the past and do something different.”

The effort to appear “different” was part of Obama’s emphasis in the 2007 Democrat presidential primary until his campaign finally caught fire in Iowa and won him the state.

Buttigieg even compared his improbable run for president to Obama’s campaign for president, during a speech at the Liberty and Justice Celebration dinner in Iowa.

“The first time I came to this state was as a volunteer, to knock on doors for a presidential candidate – a young man with a funny name,” he said. “We knew the stakes were high then. The stakes are colossal now.”

Commentators have observed that Buttigieg is clearly a student of Obama’s upset run against failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, by echoing the same rhetoric and offering a break from the past.

While Buttigieg wants to break from candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden, he does not want to break from the Obama legacy that he hopes to inherit. It’s a strange paradox of running against the establishment while sounding like the establishment — at least the politics that Obama established in 2007.


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