Three Things that Changed Last Week

For most of a year Pete Buttigieg has seemed to me like a good bet to take on Donald Trump. The case for his? candidacy rests on the history of two previous successful Democratic campaigns: those of John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, and Barack Obama, elected in 2008.

Kennedy’s election was an argument about generational change. Obama’s election was about the irrelevance of conventional experience.  Democrats deem both presidents to have been highly successful, though the verdict on Kennedy’s policies, as opposed to his aura, was clouded by assassination.

The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., didn’t seem all that different from the first-term US Senator who announced his candidacy in February 2007 in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown, Moreover, Buttigieg, 38, appeared for a time to be the only moderate alternative to 77-year-old Joe Biden among the leading Democratic candidates, especially after US Senator Kamala Harris of California dropped out.

But three things changed last week. Donald Trump emerged from his impeachment trial in the Senate with a base that now includes the Republican delegations in both houses of Congress. Meanwhile the botched Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire debate produced mostly dispiriting results for the Democratic Party.

Senator Amy Kobuchar’s persistence paid off. The 59-year-old Minnesota Democrat is no less moderate than Buttigieg. “Klobuchar joins the swelling ranks of Democrats with a shot,” headlined Politico. Buttagieg’s path grew steeper.

A one-man Greek chorus in the debate was Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund magnate from California. He warned at one point that, after the events of the past week, there is now a “very real threat” that the president will be reelected. “Who can go toe-to-toe with Mr. Trump?” Steyer asked. “Who can take down Mr. Trump?”

Not Steyer, at least according to the polls.  As Dan Balz, chief correspondent of The Washington Post, wrote Saturday in a superb account of the situation,

The dilemma for Democratic voters is that no one candidate has yet persuaded more than a fraction of the party that they are capable of doing so. Democrats came out of Iowa splintered and demoralized, and Friday’s debate accentuated both the attributes each of the leading Democrats is offering and the limits of their appeal.

Hence the third thing that changed last week. The candidacy of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg became significantly more interesting than it was last year.

Bloomberg still has the same negatives as before:  stop-and-frisk policies as mayor, intimate ties to Wall Street, and, at 77, a proudly prickly personality.  But he also possesses a personal fortune of more than $50 billion, making him one of the dozen richest persons in America. He is already thought to have spent more than $200 million on his campaign.

A battle between Manhattan billionaires sounds like a Batman sequel.Oligarchs battling for the Presidency may be the ultimate norm to shatter.  But it also may be the best hope of the suddenly fragile American republic, to which a second Trump term would pose a serious danger.

The poll-agglomerating website 270towin shows five swing states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona, with Iowa, Ohio and Georgia showing only light pink. The first day Bloomberg will be on primary ballots is so-called Super Tuesday, March 3, when California, Texas, and twelve other states will choose something like a third of the total of all convention delegates. There’s plenty of time to reflect before then!

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