Buttigieg's Coziness With Wealthy Donors Should Concern Progressives

With Biden coming under scrutiny for his son’s ties to Ukraine and several lackluster performances during debates and on the campaign trail, Democrats had second thoughts about his candidacy. Such second-guessing is almost routine during the Fall period of the primary season of every presidential election since by October, the front runners are well known and the field is pretty much set for the rest of the primaries. But Biden is particularly distressing to some Democrats. Not only is he clearly struggling with diction and slurring his words, he tends to make racist comments about record players and other charged statements that show that he is out of touch with the current political moment. But Democrats started having more serious second thoughts about his candidacy only after polls following the most recent debates showed that he trails far behind his democratic rivals in terms of fundraising. According to Politico, Biden has just $15 million on hand, compared to Sanders’ $28 million and Warren’s $24 million, who are both more progressive than Biden. 

Sensing Democrat’s givings about Biden and the leading progressives, two other centrists moved to fill the gap between the two progressives. In the last debate, Buttigieg and Klobuchar had strong performances as they attempted to boost their stalling campaigns. Buttigieg, in particular, displayed an aggressive side that Democrats had not seen before. Soon after the debate, Buttigieg’s fundraising numbers reflected Democrat’s renewed interest in his candidacy. Compared to Biden’s $15 million, Buttigieg now has $19 million in his account, which places him firmly in 3rd place in the money game. Further, Warren’s polling numbers have begun to fall following her rocky debate performance in which she failed to explain how she would fund her Medicare for All plan (a deep irony considering how much she has emphasized her various plans for everything from housing to education). Meanwhile, Buttigieg’s polling numbers have shown a small but sharp uptick. He has not exactly captured the nation’s attention enough to unseat the candidates at the top of the race. After all, he is only polling at 7% while Biden is still polling at over 25% as he has been for the past several months. With more money and a smart ground game in Iowa, Buttigieg could capitalize on the recent momentum to propel him up into the double digits.

But as Democrats cast about for an alternative to Biden, there is one major reason to be wary of the young upstart from South Bend, Illinois. Sure, he is better than some of the other potentials that establishment Democrats have been considering over the past weeks, like a late entry by Eric Holder or (and this is not a joke) Hilary Clinton. The fact that some Democrats have considered bringing back Hilary Clinton rather than rally behind one of the other current candidates is appalling. That being said, it is perhaps understandable that these Democrats would not want Buttigieg as the Democratic candidate for President given who else is supporting him.

The one major reason to worry about a Buttigieg candidacy is the source of his funding. Unlike Sanders and Warren, who have refused to take money from corporations or large donors, Buttigieg courts them. But unlike Biden, who has assured the rich that their standard of living will not change, Buttigieg has remained vague and unclear in his criticisms of the wealthy to the public. That ambiguity has excited elite donors, who have lined up behind him in droves. They love when a candidate refuses to criticize them while also refraining from courting them openly because that allows the rich to stay out of the media spotlight while backing their man in the race. And all of these wealthy donors are backing him because they want one thing in particular from him if he comes to Office: protections from regulations.

In many ways, Buttigieg is the darling candidate of Silicon Valley, much more so that Yang, who has also tried to paint himself as a tech sector insider. He was a classmate of Facebook found Mark Zuckerberg, and was one of the first 300 people on Facebook as a result. He has maintained his relationship with Zuckerberg over the years, and even showed Zuckerberg around South Bend during the tech billionaire’s own trial balloon for a presidential bid in 2017. Zuckerberg has even recommended staff to Buttigieg’s team and introduced him to other tech elites, like Chris Cox and Sam Altman. Buttigieg, like Harris, Booker, and other Democratic candidates, has made several fundraising trips to Silicon Valley to woo investors from Uber, Google, and other major firms. And until recently, Buttigieg refused to call for the big tech companies to be broken up. Of course, with all of this support from tech companies, Buttigieg’s support for breaking up big tech companies is deeply suspect. More likely, he is reading the political winds and realizes that there is a chance for him to grab some Warren supporters who are critical of Big Tech but don’t want Warren’s Medicare for All. After all, like everything else about his platform, Buttigieg has remained steadfastly vague in his critiques of Big Tech so far.

It is then perhaps not so surprising that another reason to be worried about Buttigieg is his deep ties to Wall Street. Over the summer, The New York Times put Buttigieg at the top of their list of candidates who recieve money from Wall Street, beating out even Biden and Harris, who are well known for their fundraising trips to New York. “If you could roll all three of them into a single candidate,” Ms. Julianna Smoot, national finance director for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign said, “you’d have the perfect candidate.” Another major appeal of Buttigieg to the super-wealthy of New York City: Buttigieg is a veteran of the storied MicKinsey consultancy, having worked there from 2007 to 2010 after completing his studies as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England. That means he knows how to speak the language of the New York business elite. His fluency in the culture of the elite American business world has allowed him to land big donors, such as Tony James, the executive vice-chairman of Blackstone, one of the world’s largest real-estate companies and a strong opponent for affordable housing regulations. James held a fundraising party for Buttigieg over the summer, a direct signal to the rest of the Democratic base that Buttigieg will do little to affect private equity’s grip on real-estate that could otherwise be redeveloped for the poor.

In the New York Times article, the paper quotes Kathryn Wylde, who heads the Partnership for New York City, whose board includes many big business leaders: “Businesspeople are first of all pragmatists. They’re going to support the most moderate Democrats they think have a chance to win.” Now that Biden and Harris have both taken their shots and displayed their weaknesses, the spotlight for the business community is now on Buttigieg. He is their last horse in the race, and if he can prove himself, there is a good chance they will switch their support from Biden to Buttigieg. For Democrats, the choice is clear: either support Buttigieg and kiss all of their progressive ideals goodbye, or throw their weight behind a different candidate, one who will support the working class instead of catering to the wealthy. Their choice could determine the outcome of the 2020 election and the future of the United States of America.


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