Give Pete Buttigieg credit. It is no mean feat to win the Iowa caucuses, as he appears to have done — albeit without the popular vote.
(Ironically, he backs the abolition of the Electoral College to prevent precisely this sort of outcome.)
Whether finishing first or second, the fact that Buttigieg did so as a neophyte, in his mid-30s, the former mayor of a Midwestern college town, compounds his achievement.
Let us examine the reasons for his win.
One is impeachment.
Most of his major rivals were imprisoned in the U.S. Senate, so to speak, for the two weeks before the caucuses, locked there by their own party leaders. The only one who was not stuck in D.C. was Joe Biden, who was mentioned — not favorably — as a potential witness.
Buttigieg owes Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) a thank-you card.
Then there is Buttigieg’s large campaign war chest, which is the result of two unique factors.
One is the unavoidable fact that he is the first gay presidential candidate — as he would insist, the first one that we know of — and is able to attract well-heeled donors from that constituency.
The other is that he overlapped at Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg and friends, and has tapped an extensive network of Silicon Valley backers and advisors.
Third, Buttigieg has successfully copied the model of the man for whom he once campaigned in the Hawkeye State: none other than Barack Obama himself.
At times, Buttigieg even seems to be imitating Obama — the same cadence, the same shirtsleeves, the same ability to say a lot of fancy-sounding words without saying anything at all.
And like Obama, Buttigieg hopes to use an Iowa bounce to build momentum.
There is also something of Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign in Buttigieg’s style. He has well-rehearsed and well-informed answers to most questions; he has youth and energy and a polished delivery. He can muster the conventional wisdom of his party’s preferred cable news channel on command.
Like Rubio, Buttigieg does not fare so well when challenged directly. And unlike Rubio, he has won something.
It is worth noting that although Buttigieg is every bit as radical as his rivals on most issues — abortion to the moment of birth, erasing Thomas Jefferson’s name from public life, and so on — he has distinguished himself as a relative moderate on the Democrats’ most important issue: health care.
Like Joe Biden, he wants to expand Medicare as an option without imposing “Medicare for All” on everyone.
There are echoes of Obama in that strategy, as well: Obama ran against the individual mandate in Hillary Clinton’s plan in 2008, before imposing one as the centerpiece of Obamacare, once he became president.
Unfortunately, Buttigieg has also failed to learn from Obama’s flaws.
Like Obama, Buttigieg treats the press rather poorly. He has yet to answer a spontaneous question in the post-debate spin room. After the last debate, he almost ran away from reporters, hiding behind his staff.
He also has Obama’s arrogance.
That comes out most clearly whenever Buttigieg talks about religion. Buttigieg seems to have convinced himself that his “social justice” version of Christianity — which includes the recent innovation of gay marriage — is the authoritative one. He condescends to conservative Christians, even mocking their piety.
Not even Obama went that far. He had a certain contempt for the “bitter clingers,” but he also respected their political clout, and he did his best not to offend them, at least not in public, and not until he became president.
Obama was the most pro-choice president in the history of the United States. And yet when he was asked about his views, he would preface his reply by showing empathy for pro-life views, making clear that he viewed them as legitimate and sincere.
Buttigieg, by contrast, showed up with Planned Parenthood last year outside the Supreme Court to protest against pro-life legislation in several conservative states.
In that sense, Buttigieg is emblematic of the peculiar leftward drift of his party. One reason this field of candidates is so radical is that the party has lost touch with the social and economic institutions that once checked its utopian impulses.
Millennial Democrats like Buttigieg are convinced their opponents are racist religious troglodytes and that the country’s demographic shift will enable them to shape the world in their own design.
Which is also why fellow millennials do not like him: he is one of them, but tries not to be, in ways that seem calculating.
He wants to be the new Obama, and it is a little too obvious.
But well done, so far.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.