To say the Democrats are in trouble is an understatement: November’s defeat was so unfathomable, it’s made party leaders question the very nature of what they understood about the American people.
The election, as Vox put it, reduced the party to “a smoking pile of rubble.”
Enter Pete Buttigieg, the 34-year-old openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who’s thrown his hat into the ring for leadership of the Democratic National Committee.
Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned under fire last summer on the eve of the convention, after WikiLeaks posted emails suggesting a coordinated effort by party officials to help Hillary Clinton defeat Bernie Sanders.
The lead contenders for her replacement are Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, an early Clinton supporter, and Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, who stumped for Bernie Sanders. With the wounds of the primary season still so raw, Buttigieg is offering himself as an alternative to two longtime insiders.
“This is not a time to re-litigate an old battle,” Buttigieg told The New York Times. “It’s time for new leadership to deliver a fresh start for our party.”
As the two-term mayor of a city of 100,000, he doesn’t exactly have the clout of his rivals, but Buttigieg has overseen something of a renaissance in South Bend. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a Harvard graduate, a Rhodes scholar, and a Naval officer who served in Afghanistan.
Hell, he should run for president, not chair of the party.
“This is one of the most talented young leaders in the Democratic Party,” Obama strategist David Axelrod told the Times. “And he comes from the middle of the country, where the party needs to be strengthened.”
Buttigieg came out in an open letter in the South Bend Tribune in June 2015, shortly before the Supreme Court ruling brining federal marriage equality.
“Being gay isn’t something you choose, but you do face choices about whether and how to discuss it,” he wrote. “I was well into adulthood before I was prepared to acknowledge the simple fact that I am gay. It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am.”
He’s not the only LGBT person vying for the job, actually: Ray Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, announced his candidacy in December. (Buckley dropped out this week and endorsed Ellison.)
The DNC will elect its next chair at the end of February and, honestly, Buttigieg’s chances are slim. But there would be some poetic justice if the DNC chairman hailed from Indiana, home state of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law as governor.
Regardless of his odds, Buttgieg says he’s ready to battle the incoming administration.
“I can’t think of something more meaningful than organizing the opposition in the face of what I think will be a pretty monstrous presidency and challenging time out here in the states.”