Pete Buttigieg, whose path to the Democratic presidential nomination has narrowed after early promise, offered an explicit condemnation of Bernie Sanders’ politics Saturday after finishing behind the Vermont senator for at least the second time in three contests.
In a speech to supporters in Las Vegas, Buttigieg branded Sanders, a democratic socialist, as the leader of an “inflexible ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats.”
“I believe that we can bring an end to corporate recklessness and bring balance to our economy by empowering workers, raising wages, and insisting that those who gain the most must contribute the most in order to keep the American dream going forward,” Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, added a moment later. “But that is different from Sen. Sanders’ vision of capitalism as the root of all evil, that would go beyond reform and reorder the economy in ways most Democrats — not to mention most Americans — don’t support.”
Buttigieg has been honing such critiques of Sanders for weeks, but until his Saturday speech had not attacked him in such a direct and pungent way. His decision to do so now reflects a new urgency for a campaign that once was the fundraising darling of the field but now has set a deadline to raise $13 million to stay competitive into March.
By winning New Hampshire and now Nevada, and by running close with Buttigieg in the delegate count in Iowa, where results remain subject to recount, Sanders has separated himself from the rest of the Democratic field. The race now shifts to South Carolina, hardly an ideal place for a Buttigieg comeback given its large black electorate and Buttigieg’s struggles to win support from black voters.
Buttigieg's speech on Saturday at times delivered conflicting notes. He ripped into Sanders in one breath while lamenting the “viciousness” of politics in the next. He sounded on one hand to be criticizing Sanders’ supporters for their online vitriol and extremism — lines sure to be interpreted by those supporters as antagonistic and unwelcoming — while on the other emphasizing the need for a broader movement that welcomes all points of view.
“Now, ours is the only campaign that has beaten Sen. Sanders anywhere in the country during this campaign cycle,” said Buttigieg, falling back on the still-unofficial Iowa results that also showed Sanders winning the popular vote there. “We’ve done it not by consolidating one extreme faction, but by growing an American majority that is united not only over who it is we’re against, but in what it is that we’re for. Ours is a coalition hungry for action. If we mobilize fellow Americans as allies, instead of pushing them into adversaries, we have shown that we can turn the page on our broken politics without turning off most Americans from our politics.”
Sanders’ orbit immediately ridiculed Buttigieg’s remarks. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently endorsed Sanders after his own failed presidential bid and campaigned on Sanders’ behalf in Nevada, called his former rival “smug.”
Buttigieg’s speech came after networks declared Sanders the winner of Nevada’s caucuses but before the full picture was known of where and how far back he and other Democrats would finish.
Buttigieg and former vice president Joe Biden, via their top advisers, each braced their supporters for a second-place finish, based on internal numbers, though it was unclear whether Biden’s numbers were signaling second place in delegates, popular vote, or both. Buttigieg’s team, well before substantial results were released, posted real-time delegate shares — based on caucus site tally sheets collected by precinct captains — on the campaign’s website. (As of 6:30 p.m. Vegas time, Buttigieg by his own team’s count was far behind Sanders and 2 percentage points ahead of Biden.)
It was an example of the kind of aggressive spin and expectations-setting Buttigieg and his aides have been indulging in as they try to establish him as a runner-up, not an also-ran.
In Iowa, he declared himself victorious in the midst of the caucus-counting chaos, annoying his rivals and especially infuriating Sanders backers who believe their candidate was the undisputed winner, given the popular vote. And after New Hampshire — where Buttigieg finished a close second to Sanders in the popular vote and left with the same number of delegates — what allies felt was a solid night was overshadowed by a third-place finish from Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who appeals to similar moderate, Sanders-skeptical voters.
Klobuchar celebrated a fundraising boost after her New Hampshire surprise. Buttigieg sent out a fundraising SOS.
“We've had some of our highest fundraising days this month, but — frankly — our numbers should have been better,” he wrote in an email to supporters Thursday.
"We are the best shot at defeating Donald Trump,” Buttigieg added. “But the reality is, if we can’t raise $13 million before Super Tuesday, we might never get that shot.”