(Picture: Parking lot in what turns out to be Milford, New Hampshire, waiting for the bus)
So here we are in… you know, as I’m saying this, I don’t have a clue where we are? It’s the woods in New Hampshire, thirty miles from anywhere, and somehow there’s a massive inflatable domed sports arena. I don’t get it; it’s not hockey, which might make sense. But somehow the Buttigieg campaign found the only domed stadium in the county.
We’ve spent a long time trying to find a small event where we can get close enough to ask the candidate a question. It took nearly a week to realize: That’s just not going to happen. They stopped running the classic small town campaign months ago; they’re in massive venue mode.
Which makes sense, particularly if what Rianna (from the Common Man missed event) is right about him: He doesn’t like engaging one-on-one. According to her, casual policy questions get a “Check out the website” as a reply. It’s in sharp contrast with Uncle Joe Biden’s love of small venues, where he insists on meeting almost everybody in the room, shaking their hand, listening, and making them feel important.
But Biden’s running retail politics while Pete the Stepford is playing wholesale. This venue is perfectly accessible; we can see a near-empty parking lot. We’re not allowed in either as press or for accessibility concerns; the (incongruously grinning) campaign worker directing traffic hands us a card with directions to an empty office park two miles away. There’s a rented schoolbus idling, waiting to fill up; it’s evident that’ll take a while. The event is scheduled to start… right now. But there’s apparently no great rush, the driver says. Grinning.
Suddenly I’m sick of the whole mess: from the officious twit lying to us by the venue to the detour to the bus in an empty parking lot, all this is perfectly designed to piss me off. I don’t mind a little discomfort here and there, but the absence of seatbelts irked me in grade school and I’m not putting up with it now; heck, I don’t even fit in one of these things. They’re putting on a show of wealth and power with rented people and equipment; that’s fine, but I insist on quality in my fake displays. If I wanted to get jerked around, I’d have gone to see Trump.
Hell with it. I’ll catch the video. Back to the hotel, dammit; I’ve seen too many candidates and idiot crowds, and facing one when I’m this pissed-off helps nobody. In this mood I’d kick a puppy.
This was the night before the primary. Fast forward two weeks; I’m back home, and the Buttigieg Campaign is coming to Arlington.
Again they’ve discovered an unlikely venue; this time it’s a high school football field inside the Beltway. It’s frigid and there’s no seat for me; the sound system makes the warm-up guy echo incoherently. There’s probably close to ten thousand people here, which is saying something: They don’t much like the cold in Virginia. But here we all are. And a disturbing number of them are… smiling.
(Incidentally: The pic in the Roanoke Times is very obviously photoshopped. This is a grim cinderblock backdrop.)
Mayor Pete lives up to his nickname. He’s folksy and small-town as can be. His voice is a bit of a monotone, and he’s obviously dealt with this sort of nasty echo a few times. He inserts frequent pauses and avoids complex phrasing. Obviously, this is a man who can adjust his stump speech on the fly; he’s intelligent and flexible. The grin is still creepy as hell, though.
At first I thought he was speaking simply just because of the venue, but slowly, as the stump speech progressed, it began to dawn on me: Mayor Pete speaks entirely in platitudes. He doesn’t touch on any issues; he doesn’t give any detail. And yet, he does know how to work a crowd; he knows how to play the arena for advantage. Even the questions period at the end is completely fixed; every one’s a softball, half the questioners sign themselves as LGBTQ+, and they’re seated down front.
(The candidate appears legitimately surprised by this. Whether he’s unused to the incompetence or he didn’t know the fix was in is in a sense immaterial; either way, it speaks well of him. The third alternative is that he’s just that good an actor… which could be said to be the chief qualification for the job, so there’s that.)
Then the real oddity struck me. For the first time in my experience with a candidate, there’s no American flags in evidence. Oh, there’s some red-white-and-blue bunting here and there, but his backdrop is a single massive Virginia flag with the state seal very readable even this far back: Sic Semper Tyrannis. There’s a very bright mind at work here, and all of this has been designed deliberately, down to the tiny details.
Pete Buttigieg is a one-issue candidate. His chosen issue is Defeating Trump. And the crowd loves it. Everyone’s smiling right now, and for once it’s not at all creepy.
Alone in the Democratic field, this campaign has selected the one thing voters will care about come November. It’s not healthcare; Defeat Trump and we’ll get it done. Free speech? Defeat Trump to protect free speech. Climate change? It’s real and we need to Defeat Trump. Gun control? Trump’s twisting the 2nd Amendment; Defeat Trump and we’ll change that. He’s playing a fiddle with one string and playing it beautifully — and, so long as nobody challenges him about his mediocre anti-Trump polling or his inexperience, he’ll do just fine.
Somehow, I don’t see a Trump campaign permitting that.
One thing about his stump speech that struck me: He keeps referring to a “big tent”, one that all Democrats can fit in. It’s a curious turn of phrase dating from Roosevelt and the New Deal, one that’s common to midwestern Progressive candidates like Klobuchar and Buttigieg. It’s also, interestingly enough, the name of The Party’s SuperPAC that’s been running anti-Sanders attack ads for the past week; the Big Tent Coalition had a massive ad buy in Nevada and plans another for South Carolina, all for mudslinging. There’s two more, similarly funded, supporting Amy and Liz. (Presumably, Pete isn’t female enough, and neither is Tulsi.)
The one thing the campaign strategists appear to not be considering is the very real chance that no moderate will actually win the nomination, but that all the attack ads will harm Bernie’s chances so much he’ll be unable to defeat Trump in the fall. But then again, in that event, Pete Buttigieg will be uniquely placed to step in for him, so maybe they’re considering it after all.
Fatigue was setting in when I wrote the first bit; the same can be said of the second. I tried to remain neutral, but frankly I’m sick of them begging for my money while spending tens of millions on intrusive ads everyone detests.
Instead, you should donate money where it’ll make a difference: Right here.