Nobody seems to know whether Pete Buttigieg is fairly categorized as a moderate. Part of his appeal is wrapped up in that mystery, because he’s effectively appealing to both camps without clearly embracing either. But going on Fox News has nothing to do with policy.
If being a moderate is defined by one’s platform, as the accepted definition seems to indicate, Buttigieg is not a moderate. As Jonathan Tobin observed in National Review this week, “By any reasonable standard, Buttigieg is a hard-core liberal on the issues.”
“He supports a form of Medicare-for-all, an eventual phase-out of private health insurance, and a vast expansion of other entitlements,” Tobin noted. “He backs the Green New Deal, the Paris Climate Accord, and other ‘aggressive’ methods to combat climate change. He favors stricter gun control and expanded student-loan forgiveness. And he opposes Trump’s immigration policies.” (I’ll add that he also supports the Equal Rights Amendment.)
That’s hardly middle-of-the-road, although it’s increasingly difficult to know what a “moderate” actually looks like in today’s Democratic Party. But Buttigieg feels like one.
So is he a stylistically moderate progressive? Assuming this also applies to Joe Biden, and I think there’s a good argument to be made that it does (by his own campaign), is this what Democrats’ top tier has to offer the middle? Leftists who talk like moderates?
A moment in the Washington Post’s interview of Buttigieg on Thursday illustrated the limits of this strange balancing act. Asked straight up whether President Trump is a racist, Buttigieg replied, “If you do racist things, and say racist things, the question of whether that makes you a racist is almost academic.”
That particular question is sure to recur as the South Bend mayor continues his surprising romp through the Democratic primary. Note that Buttigieg agreed Trump is a racist without saying it. He plays the game better than most, but answers like that mean he won’t be the key to reclaiming Democrats (and Independents) who voted for Trump in 2016. As someone whose experience in a Trump-friendly state is supposed to be part of his appeal—giving him a better understanding of the president’s voters—he should know that.
Maybe that’s fine. Buttigieg is running in a primary, and though his long-shot suddenly seems a little less long, he’s still playing to the base. But all those Democratic voters whose first priority is beating Trump should take note. He’s probably not their guy.