Pete Buttigieg Dropped Out and It's Reshaping the Race
The once-enormous Democratic presidential primary field has suddenly gotten quite small
Pete Buttigieg always thought a step ahead. With reporters, the former South Bend, Indiana mayor was deliberate in every word he spoke. On stage, before a crowd, his voice seemed to follow a rhythm like a needle tracing out a groove on an LP, the path always plotted ahead.
His decision to drop out of the presidential race was no different. An aide told GEN that he made the decision on Sunday afternoon in the wake of his fourth-place finish in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, but that the possibility had been under some discussion since a disappointing finish in the Nevada caucuses a week earlier. He had finished a distant third there and failed to crack the 15% threshold to be viable statewide and earn delegates. But a poor finish in South Carolina “changed everything,” according to another aide, who emphasized that this was “not a resource issue.” It was instead a calculation about the direction of the Democratic Party.
As the narrow winner of the Iowa caucuses, Buttigieg had a solid hold on third place in the delegate count, with 50% more delegates than Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren combined.
Had the former South Bend mayor continued in the race, he would have still accumulated delegates and gotten a significant number of votes on Super Tuesday. But it had become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to see a path to winning the nomination.
Now, no one can accuse him of being a spoiler candidate running a vanity campaign. Instead, he leaves the race as the Democrat who was willing to drop out in order to throw in with the burgeoning effort to stop Bernie Sanders from becoming the nominee.
Buttigieg had a solid hold on third place in the delegate count, with 50% more delegates than Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren combined.
The decision has ramifications far beyond Buttigieg. It finally and firmly transforms the Democratic presidential primary into a referendum on Bernie Sanders. Democrats will be forced to choose whether they prefer Sanders and his brand of democratic socialism at the top of the ticket in November — or a more moderate nominee, who many believe will have a better chance of defeating Donald Trump.
Buttigieg didn’t directly mention the Vermont senator in his speech Sunday night but offered a gentle dig at Sanders’s chances in November in remarks before a crowd of supporters in his hometown of South Bend. “We have a responsibility to consider the effect of remaining in this race any further. Our goal has always been to help unify Americans to defeat Donald Trump and win the era for values,” Buttigieg said. He called his decision to drop out “the best way to keep faith with those goals and ideals is to step aside and help bring our party and our country together.”
Buttigieg has been the only candidate to consistently criticize Sanders on the debate stage as too ideologically extreme and too polarizing to win a general election.
The former mayor’s absence will rearrange the race. In particular, it will put significant pressure on Amy Klobuchar, who finished in sixth place in Nevada and South Carolina, to drop out. It also places Michael Bloomberg’s half-billion-dollar presidential gamble in a new light.
Bloomberg’s campaign was premised on the idea that he could seize the opening created by Joe Biden’s weakness. But Biden now goes into Super Tuesday having won South Carolina by an overwhelming margin, and Buttigieg’s decision may well help consolidate moderate support for Biden. As one aide noted, while Buttigieg and Biden have been exchanging voicemails since the decision leaked out on Sunday night, the same can’t be said for Buttigieg and Bloomberg.
The decision also marks the end of a historic, trailblazing candidacy. Buttigieg was running as an openly gay man with a husband less than five years after gay marriage became legal in all 50 states. That fact was never downplayed or hidden. It was presented as part of who he was in a straightforward way. Buttigieg faced doubts, and even prejudice, within Democratic ranks from groups as diverse as socially conservative African Americans in the South to hard-left Twitter radicals who found him insufficiently queer.
Yet his campaign marks a laundry list of firsts for gay and lesbian Americans. Buttigieg was the first openly gay candidate to win a presidential primary. He was also the first openly gay candidate to finish second or third in a presidential primary.
Buttigieg won’t become the first openly gay president — at least not this year. But, by making the decision to drop out now, he still might become the first openly gay cabinet member.