The first question out of everyone’s mouth, of course, was about his experience. Buttigieg came prepared.
“Look, I’ve got more experience in government than the president of the United States,” he said in a Jan. 31 interview on CBS This Morning. “I’ve got more years of executive experience than the vice president. And I have more military experience than anybody behind that desk since George H.W. Bush. It’s not a conventional background, but I don’t think it’s time for a conventional background.”
In Manchester, questions about Buttigieg’s experience became declarations about his future. Buttigieg delivered a five-minute version of his freedom-democracy-security stump speech. He called for “a new vocabulary,” telling supporters that “freedom does not belong to one political party,” that “security is not left or right,” that “we will not be the democracy we claim to be if we tolerate districts where politicians choose their voters and not the other way around.” When he finished, the crowd whooped and hollered: “Pete! Pete! Pete!” Someone shouted: “President Pete!”
A tonal moderate who espouses a progressive program of democratic reforms, the cerebral Buttigieg balances high rhetoric and policy specifics. He talks about cybersecurity but also drops in metacritiques of Trump’s signature campaign slogan: “There is no such thing as an honest politics that revolves around the word ‘again,’” a line he is almost certain to use Sunday when—standing in the Old Studebaker Building 84, once one of the largest car factories in the world and now a technology center—he’ll make his 2020 bid official. “The way he talks about issues is refreshing to a lot of people,” his campaign manager, Mike Schmuhl told me. “It’s not just litmus tests, and platitudes, and what do you want to hear. It’s values, and then he goes to ideas, and then he goes to policies.”
There are 10 months until the first primary votes are cast, but last Friday’s event had more of the feel of a general election campaign stop. People had chosen and they weren’t shy about saying so.
Erin Tatum, a 27-year-old writer from Philadelphia, knew who she was voting for before she got in the car for the seven-hour ride north. Tatum talked her mom into making the road trip because she likes Buttigieg’s generational message and his military service. After the event, she and Buttigieg spoke. He stood close to her motorized wheelchair and locked eyes with her. “He’s a respectful man who has lived a principled life,” Tatum, who is bisexual, told me after meeting Buttigieg. “I really felt acknowledged—which as a person with a disability you often don’t—so that was a moment that stood out to me.”
The next day in Concord, I spoke with Mark and Laurie Brown a white married couple from Salem, N.H., who typically vote Democratic and own a screen-printing business. Buttigieg had caught Laurie’s attention when he called for abolishing the Electoral College—one of his signature proposals—on TV. “That was a bold step to take,” she said. When it comes to experience, she told me, “He’ll talk about how senators don’t have any executive experience. He manages more people than most Senate offices. He’s got to multitask and do lots of things. He’s still running South Bend currently while he’s doing this. I don’t think the age is an issue. He’s sort of checked a lot of boxes and he’s appealing to a lot of people. He’s incredibly well-spoken and empathetic.” [Continue reading…]