The undoing of Mayor Pete

Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign surrendered to its inevitable demise after a fourth-place finish in South Carolina

Pete Buttigieg.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images, Aerial3/iStock)

By the time Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on Sunday evening after finishing fourth place in the South Carolina primary, a nation of observers had finally learned to pronounce his surname after months of referring to him simply as “Mayor Pete.” Given his lack of national political experience, Buttigieg's fundraising prowess in 2019 was reasonably impressive. His disappointing showing in South Carolina, which was more or less in line with what he had expected, followed what was technically a close victory in the Iowa caucuses and a second-place finish in New Hampshire. But these facts aside, it is difficult to say what exactly the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, can be said to have accomplished during his presidential campaign.

How else did he think this was going to turn out? Who did he imagine made up the constituency for an actual Buttigieg presidency? Wealthy suburbanites who preferred the guardians of their investment portfolios to be under the age of 75? College students who like the idea of being woke but think that the underlying realities of our economic system should not change? Buttigieg's platform was virtually identical with that of every other moderate candidate in this race. His record in office was undistinguished even by the standards of other mayors of medium-sized post-industrial cities in the Upper Midwest. Unlike Barack Obama in 2008, he could not argue that his youth was actually an asset, nor did he speak to the aspirations of millions with his uninspiring rhetoric. His utterances on the campaign trail had all the emotional uplift of an indifferently delivered PowerPoint presentation; his answers in debates sounded like (and may once have been) responses to professional development day icebreaker questions.

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Matthew Walther

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has also appeared in First Things, The Spectator of London, The Catholic Herald, National Review, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the Rev. Montague Summers. He is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.