Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is spot on when it comes to understanding how to handle a campaign against President Trump. His problem is the fact that he’s wrong about everything else.
The South Bend, Indiana mayor gave a perfect response to that question — how he’d respond to Trump’s attacks — from moderator Chris Wallace during his Fox News town hall on Sunday.
“[Trump] is a formidable and unconventional candidate, he is already making fun of your name, and your looks. Comparing you to Alfred E. Neuman,” Wallace began, unable to resist throwing in a joke of his own. “By the way, if you say, ‘What, me worry?’ right now, I’ll give you $10.”
Buttigieg just laughed and shook his head. “Tweets are … I don’t care,” he said, and the audience roared.
“It is an effective way to command the attention of media, we need to change the channel from the show he created. I get it, it is mesmerizing, it is hard to look away — it is the nature of grotesque things, you can’t look away.” (RELATED: Pete Buttigieg Says Third-Trimester Abortions Should Be Legal)
And then “Mayor Pete” did just that — he effectively changed the channel. “But everyone time we look at his latest tweet and silly insult, what we’re not looking at is the fact we’re the ones tries to get you a raise, they are blocking it. We’re preserving healthcare, their positions a general rule are unpopular,” he said.
What Buttigieg understands is that, in order to take away Trump’s oxygen, a successful candidate cannot engage him in the public square — precisely because that’s where Trump wants to be engaged.
The simple fact is that in Trump’s world, all publicity is good publicity. All press is good press. Every insult gives him the ammunition he needs to deploy a counterattack on Twitter. Every negative story gives him something to attack from the South Lawn of the White House or even from the stage at his next rally.
That coupled with his well-earned reputation for being a bit bombastic leaves Trump able to fire off the kind of tweet that would leave many lifelong politicians staring down the barrel of a cut-rate book deal, five cable-news appearances from relative obscurity.
Buttigieg is smart enough to understand that he can’t engage Trump on that level, and he’s made it clear that he won’t try.
But Buttigieg has bigger problems than Trump — his own Democratic primary could prove to be a big enough obstacle to bar him from ever getting that far.
Still polling in single digits, Buttigieg lags a good distance behind the more experienced and well-known candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Beyond the two obvious frontrunners, Buttigieg fails to stand out in field full of candidates — many of whom can also claim minority status in some form or fashion. And his policy positions do little to help him break away from the pack.
Like every other Democratic contender, he has voiced support for a “fairer” tax system, even admitting that what he meant by “fairer” taxes was “higher” taxes. “When candidates, Democrats, go out promising — as I think we should — that we’re going to have major increases in investment in things like education, health and infrastructure, we also gotta be willing to say where the revenue’s going to come from,” Buttigieg said during Sunday’s town hall. “That’s why we really do need to entertain ideas like, I would say a fairer — which means higher — marginal income tax rate on those with the most.”
He’s come out in favor of keeping third-trimester abortion legal, arguing that it should still be a choice left up to women. “The bottom line is, as horrible as that choice is, that woman, that family, may seek spiritual guidance, they may seek medical guidance, but that decision isn’t going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made,” he told Wallace.
And while those policy positions may prove to be problematic in the Democratic primary because they don’t stand out enough, they could prove equally problematic in a general election — for the opposite reason.
In a head-to-head matchup against an incumbent president, independent voters and moderates would likely carry the results. And Buttigieg’s policies, while not extreme enough to distinguish him from the rest of his primary field, may be too extreme for independents.
Third-trimester abortion, for example, may not be a winning policy when one considers the fact that half of Americans oppose unlimited abortion for any reason.
Americans feeling the benefits of an energized economy and lower income tax rates may also be wary of anyone promising to raise taxes, even if the programs those taxes would fund might sound reasonable or even attractive.
The bottom line is simple: Buttigieg may understand exactly how to handle Trump, but it’s not likely to matter.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.