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Pete Buttigieg: Future of the Democratic Party (and President)?

Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took a hit over the winter, during the Southwest Airlines flight cancellation fiasco that stranded thousands and thousands of holiday travelers.

Buttigieg had been pressured, during the previous fall, to impose penalties against airlines for flight cancellations (in the hopes of avoiding a situation precisely like the one that then unfolded).

Pete Buttigieg declined, and the fiasco ensued.

It was a bad look for the ambitious Transportation Secretary.

Now, Senators are calling out Buttigieg.

But don’t worry too much about Buttigieg. He will bounce back.

Pete Buttigieg weathers the storm

For one, the Department of Transportation and all transportation-related happenings just aren’t as high profile as Cabinet counterparts like Defense and State; DOT is more politically insulated, and less likely to generate sustained news coverage.

While an upward striver like Pete Buttigieg would, in normal circumstances, no doubt prefer a higher profile, more politically relevant gig, the DOT’s insulation likely helped Buttigieg mitigate the political damage from the Southwest ordeal.

The world will move on in a way that they wouldn’t from a comparable disaster at Defense or State.

Second, leaving a few of the working- and middle-class travelers who fly on a budget carrier like Southwest stranded for the holidays will not push Buttigieg out of favor with the people who plucked him from relative obscurity and decided he was going to be relevant to national politics.

Buttigieg is still buddies with President Joe Biden. Buttigieg is still a David Axelrod project. Well-to-do Democrats are still going to melt over Buttigieg’s intelligence every time he used a three-syllable word in a debate. Buttigieg is going to be fine.

He’s already talking about other things. Like on ABC’s “This Week” recently, Buttigieg spent his time defending Biden and the economy – not talking about stranded travelers.

“What we’re seeing is extraordinary,” Buttigieg said. “Record job creation, as the president has pointed out, more created in two years on his watch than four years on any other president’s watch, and usually,  when you have unemployment go down like this, you have inflation go up. But right now, inflation is going down as well.”

Right, and that gets back to my point about being buddies with Biden; Buttigieg is still a major Biden/Democrat cheerleader, and he’d have to screw up bigger than the Southwest ordeal to burn the favor he’s earned.  

Third, Buttigieg has an immense influence on a historic pot of money – $2 billion from the new infrastructure law that went directly to the DOT. Where the DOT’s $2 billion, a sum “at the core of the administration’s efforts to rebuild the country,” goes now is up to Pete Buttigieg.

The infrastructure money was intended to give “huge sums to bridges and highways while setting the nation on a path to widespread electric car usage, better passenger rail service, more reliable buses and safer routes for walking and cycling.”

Whether those objectives are achieved will depend on Pete Buttigieg – and either way, he’s politically talented enough to represent himself as having achieved those objectives.

Buttigieg moving forward

Pete Buttigieg will put the Southwest thing behind him – if he hasn’t already.

Buttigieg is barely 40, and he’ll be around in Democratic politics for a long time. Buttigieg is a darling of his party and that hasn’t changed. If for some reason, Vice President Kamala Harris isn’t asked to run with Biden in 2024, Buttigieg will be on the short list for replacements. But Buttigieg isn’t eyeing the vice presidency. He’s eyeing the top job.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

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