Pete Butigieg ended his campaign on Sunday
Pete Butigieg ended his campaign on Sunday (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

On Sun­day, the field of can­di­dates for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion nar­rowed again, as Pete Buttigieg, the for­mer May­or of South Bend, Indi­ana, announced that he was drop­ping out.

“The truth is that the path has nar­rowed to a close, for our can­di­da­cy if not for our cause,” Buttigieg told sup­port­ers in his home town. The may­or talked with both for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden on Sun­day night, and is expect­ed to throw his sup­port behind Biden in the com­ing days.

Pete Butigieg ended his campaign on Sunday
Pete Butigieg end­ed his cam­paign on Sun­day (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Pete Buttigieg’s cam­paign for the pres­i­den­cy was an extra­or­di­nary one in a vari­ety of ways. At the age of thir­ty-eight – and with no expe­ri­ence at a nation­al or even statewide lev­el – America’s first open­ly gay pres­i­den­tial con­tender rose from almost total obscu­ri­ty to the top tier of Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates, jostling for space with gov­er­nors, sen­a­tors, and a for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

The youth­ful may­or impressed peo­ple from all over the polit­i­cal spec­trum with his mil­i­tary cre­den­tials (he served as a Navy intel­li­gence offi­cer in Afghanistan) and his obvi­ous intel­lec­tu­al chops; he is a Har­vard grad­u­ate, a Rhodes schol­ar, and speaks eight languages.

He was also able to con­struct a for­mi­da­ble cam­paign team and raise huge sums of mon­ey, an impres­sive feat for a man with such a small nation­al profile.

Buttigieg’s cam­paign was able to out­last those of far more like­­ly-seem­ing can­di­dates in an extreme­ly crowd­ed pri­ma­ry field – which includ­ed Montana’s Gov­er­nor Steve Bul­lock, California’s Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris, or Washington’s Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee – and pull off a shock result in the Iowa cau­cus­es, win­ning more del­e­gates than any oth­er can­di­date (although Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont won the pop­u­lar vote), and com­ing a nar­row sec­ond in the New Hamp­shire primary.

How­ev­er, the fol­low­ing two states – Neva­da and South Car­oli­na – set Buttigieg back thanks to a weak­ness that the cam­paign had con­sis­tent­ly strug­gled to address: his lack of pop­u­lar­i­ty among com­mu­ni­ties of color.

The issue of race has plagued Buttigieg since the start of his cam­paign, with his may­oral record quick­ly com­ing under scruti­ny for how he dealt with racism in South Bend’s police force. His cam­paign staff didn’t do him any favors by botch­ing the roll­out of “The Dou­glass Plan” – a raft of poli­cies aimed at reduc­ing racial inequal­i­ty – by false­ly claim­ing that a num­ber of promi­nent African Amer­i­can lead­ers had endorsed it, when they had not.

Unlike his rivals – par­tic­u­lar­ly Joe Biden – Buttigieg nev­er had a strong net­work of rela­tion­ships in the black com­mu­ni­ty, but he also seemed indif­fer­ent to pur­su­ing these rela­tion­ships. When crit­i­cized by a black con­stituent in South Bend at a cam­paign event, he told her, “Ma’am, I’m not look­ing for your vote.”

Buttigieg’s per­son­al style put off a lot of poten­tial sup­port­ers. His care­ful­ly craft­ed polit­i­cal per­sona struck many as insin­cere, espe­cial­ly com­pared to rather-less pol­ished styles of both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden that come across as “gen­uine.”

Buttigieg also employed a rhetor­i­cal style that empha­sized lofty sen­ti­ments, rather than speci­fici­ties – avoid­ing con­tro­ver­sial opin­ions to the point where he would actu­al­ly say lit­tle at all, but with a lot of flow­ery language.

Notably, his with­draw­al speech con­tained the phrase “Some­times the longest way around is real­ly the short­est way home”. In his attempts to push him­self for­ward as a com­pro­mise can­di­date who could both pur­sue pro­gres­sive reform and win over Repub­li­cans, Buttigieg altered his cam­paign’s pol­i­cy planks.

His cen­tral mes­sage of uni­ty was also under­cut by the way he under­mined and belit­tled some of his opponents.

Even his speech on Sun­day con­tained a bare­­ly-con­cealed swipe at Bernie Sanders and his sup­port­ers. Buttigieg argued that Democ­rats need “a broad based agen­da… not one that gets lost in ideology.”

(As if the neolib­er­al agen­da is some­how non-ideological!)

Buttgieg’s belit­tling of oppo­nents was even more pro­nounced on the debate stage. A spat over his lack of expe­ri­ence with Minnesota’s Sen­a­tor Amy Klobuchar devolved into a full-blown feud over the course of sev­er­al debates, derail­ing the debate for both can­di­dates. Buttigieg came off as mean-spir­it­ed in those moments, par­tic­u­lar­ly when he claimed that the Sen­a­tor didn’t know “the first thing” about Mex­i­can pol­i­tics – to which she replied: “Are you call­ing me dumb?”

Although he is out of the race, Buttigieg may still have sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence over who ulti­mate­ly becomes the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nominee.

In fact, he has already dis­cussed this influ­ence with for­mer Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, accord­ing to those famil­iar with a con­ver­sa­tion on Sunday.

With less than two days until Super Tues­day, Buttigieg’s sup­port­ers could prove deci­sive in key state pri­maries if they vote as a con­cert­ed bloc.

In Texas, for exam­ple, Buttigieg’s sup­port­ers could give Joe Biden a much need­ed boost by mov­ing into his camp.

Buttigieg’s influ­ence could even extend to the con­ven­tion itself if, as FiveThir­tyEight’s pri­ma­ry mod­el cur­rent­ly pre­dicts, no can­di­date wins an out­right major­i­ty of del­e­gates. That pre­dic­tion, of course, could be obso­lete very soon, as the pres­i­den­tial elec­toral land­scape is rapid­ly chang­ing right now.

Buttigieg is report­ed­ly plan­ning to appear at an event with Joe Biden in Dal­las tonight to endorse Biden, accord­ing to a CNN report. If true, that could help steer Buttigieg’s sup­port­ers (and espe­cial­ly his Texas sup­port­ers) into Biden’s camp.

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