Democrats don’t like their presidential candidates. Joe Biden, 76, is too flubby, while Elizabeth Warren, 70, and Bernie Sanders, 78, are too unsettling. And all three front-runners are old-timers.
This could be a breakout moment for Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind. The mayor’s midwestern roots give him strong standing in the crucial early-voting state of Iowa, where polls show he’s now in the top three. His fundraising is strong, allowing him to advertise aggressively and hire needed staff. Perhaps most importantly, his policies have gelled into a centrist agenda that sets him apart from Warren and Sanders and makes Buttigieg a plausible alternative to Joe Biden.
Buttigieg rejects the huge government programs Warren and Sanders favor, which would require trillions of dollars in new taxes. He opposes Medicare for all, for instance, because it would cost too much and “obliterate” private health insurance. And he has hectored Warren for failing to say how she’d pay for a giant, single-payer health plan, which would cost around $3.4 trillion per year, according to the Urban Institute.
Buttigieg’s own health plan, which he calls Medicare for all who want it, is much more like Biden’s plan than Warren’s. Buttigieg would establish a new public option for people who can’t get affordable coverage in the private sector, while Biden would expand the Affordable Care Act to cover more people. Under each plan, people getting public coverage would pay premiums instead of joining for free. There would still be additional costs: $150 billion per year for the Buttigieg plan, which he’d finance by rescinding the 2017 cut in the corporate tax rate. The Biden plan would cost $75 billion per year, financed by rescinding tax cuts for top earners in the 2017 tax law. Each plan would leave private insurance in place.
Buttigieg resembles Biden in his climate plan, as well. Neither would try to implement the Green New Deal, which relies on a heavy government hand in the energy and transportation sectors. But each would invest heavily in clean-energy research and establish aggressive targets for reducing carbon emissions. Buttigieg would spend up to $200 billion per year, financed by a carbon tax and “climate-action bonds.” Biden would spend $150 billion and pay for it by rescinding the 2017 corporate income tax cut. On climate and health, the two candidates generally aim for similar targets in similar ways.
Buttigieg has said he’s open to a wealth tax, which Sanders and Warren both view as a key way of raising funds they can use to finance other priorities. Biden has backed away from the idea, saying he doesn’t want to “punish” anybody. Still, polls show nearly three-quarters of voters support a wealth tax, one instance in which a leftist idea seems to have quickly become mainstream. Maybe that’s why Buttigieg is willing to consider it.
On intangible matters, Buttigieg is less like Biden. He’s barely old enough to run for president and obviously doesn’t have Biden’s deep reservoir of political insight. As a naval reservist, Buttigieg served a six-month tour in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t match Biden’s decades of foreign policy experience. Moderate Democrats now have to decide if they care.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.