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Buttigieg endured a calamity during the busy travel season where at least 16,000 flights were canceled, mostly on Southwest Airlines, leaving thousands of travelers with no options but to remain stranded at their point of origin.
This was a crisis in which Buttigieg could have shined but he seemingly stayed quiet during much of the debacle and was caught flat-footed, even rankling some Democratic critics in addition to the right.
Did His Strongly-Worded Letter to Southwest Make a Difference?
To be fair, Buttigieg did finally write a letter during the fiasco that started with a deep freeze of cold weather that initially was the culprit of the canceled flights, but other carriers besides Southwest recovered quickly and maintained service during the crisis.
The letter to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan criticized the corporate leader for seemingly abandoning the passengers who Buttigieg said “missed time with loved ones during the holidays.” The Transportation Secretary also reminded Jordan of all the people who lost luggage over Christmas.
Bitten By the Left
Khanna was frustrated with Buttigieg because he and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had previously called on the Department of Transportation to institute harsh penalties for delays and canceling flights after a similar problem over the Fourth of July holiday in 2022.
Their proposed regulatory action would fine airlines $27,500 per person for all domestic flights that are delayed more than two hours and all international flights that are delayed more than three hours.
Buttigieg Missing In Action
Pete Buttigieg ignored these recommendations and was also criticized for taking a vacation in Portugal during key negotiations with railroad workers last year.
Buttigieg’s Surprising Rise
The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana was seen as an underdog during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but he performed well in the early stages of the process and during debates with keen speaking ability and an earnest manner that allowed him to successfully fund-raise across the country.
Buttigieg, 40, is believed to be the future of the Democratic party which needs new blood and a deeper bench of presidential candidates.
Biden Is Still In Charge of His Party
Before the 2022 Midterm elections when many predicted a “Red Wave” of Republican wins, Buttigieg was seen as someone who could even enter into a primary against a weakened President Joe Biden.
However, the Democrats deftly avoided major electoral damage and performed better than expected. This served to cement Biden’s control over the party and mostly ended speculation that he would be primaried in 2024.
Recovery from the Crisis
Meanwhile, flights from Southwest have resumed to normal. I flew with my family on Southwest from Dallas, Texas to Washington, DC on December 30 and had no problems. So Buttigieg has passed through the worst of the crisis. Passengers affected by the cancellations are slowly getting refunds and receiving their luggage.
What Does the Future Hold for Pete Buttigieg?
The future of Buttigieg’s career is less certain. He is young enough to improve his standing in the party and hone leadership skills, but this catastrophe has blunted his rise to the top. He may be seen by some politicos in Washington as a lightweight, but that criticism may not carry over to the rank and file in the Democratic party.
Provided nothing happens to Biden and he wins re-election, Buttigieg has some political capital left to weather this storm and continue on. But one more slip-up could cost him. His reputation as an effective leader is in the balance.
It would probably be best if he remains in Washington throughout his tenure and tries to stay ahead of crises and be prepared to rise to the occasion when called upon.
Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.