The Buttigieg-Klobuchar Dustup

It got somewhat ugly at the kids' table.

While most of the media commentary on last night’s debate focused on the exchanges between Elizabeth Warren and Mike Bloomberg, POLITICO’s Elaina Schneider focused on a sideshow among the bottom-two candidates on the stage (“Loathing in Las Vegas: Amy and Pete’s resentment boils over“):

The hostility building between the two Midwestern Democrats burst dramatically into the open in Nevada, as they clashed repeatedly on the debate stage and tried to slash the momentum out of each other’s campaigns. Klobuchar and Buttigieg have fought before over their experience and their political records in past debates — but the feud took a deeply personal turn.

After the Minnesota senator defended her “momentary forgetfulness” when she failed to name the president of Mexico in a recent Telemundo interview, Buttigieg leaped in, surely thinking of the criticism he’s taken from Klobuchar in recent debates.

“You’re staking your candidacy on your Washington experience. You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade,” Buttigieg said, turning to face Klobuchar just to his left on the stage. “You’re literally in part of the committee that’s overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south.”

“Are you trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?” Klobuchar shot back.

It exploded again when Buttigieg blasted Klobuchar on her vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for Customs and Border Patrol, who “was part of family separation policy,” Buttigieg said.

“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” Klobuchar said. “But let me tell you what it’s like to be in the arena.”

It’s clear that the fury is rooted in the personal as well as the political for the two Democratic campaigners.

Politically, Buttigieg and Klobuchar are both hawking middle-of-the-road, tell-it-like-it-is personas, which they argue Democrats need to carry the Midwest, the region they call home. They are both competing to emerge as the main moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders, the current polling frontrunner.

But the rivalry runs deeper than their political positioning. Klobuchar has regularly spoken about sexism on the campaign trail, explaining that she is willing to call out “double standards” for female candidates because “we have to grapple with the fact that some people think a woman can’t win” against Trump, she told POLITICO in January. And this fall, Klobuchar said that a woman with the former mayor of South Bend’s resume and qualifications would likely not be on the presidential debate stage or get treated as a serious national candidate.

Klobuchar’s frustration with Buttigieg bubbles up most intensely when it comes to that experience.

While one understands Klobuchar’s frustration on this, politics ain’t beanbag and life ain’t fair. Just look at the last four Presidents.

Bill Clinton was the least seasoned Democrat running in 1992 and he not only cruised to the nomination but bested George H.W. Bush, arguably the most qualified President in the modern era.

George W. Bush beat a more seasoned field in the Republican primaries and then beat a two-term Vice President and longtime Senator.

Barack Obama hadn’t been in Washington long enough to find a dry cleaner before throwing his hat in the ring against Hillary Clinton and other longtime hands. He not only won the nomination but turned around and walloped John McCain, who had been in his country’s service since before Obama was born.

And then there’s Donald J. Trump. I don’t think we need say more.

In all candor, even though I pay quite a bit of attention to national politics, I’d never heard of Buttigieg or Klobuchar before they declared as candidates. I thought a 30-something whose top level of experience as a small-town mayor had no business running for President. Klobuchar seemed nominally qualified but unlikely to break through. But, like it or not, he managed to capture some interest with his story and she never did.

Is some of that sexism? Maybe. There’s no way to really know—any more than whether it’s racism that kept the much-more-accomplished mayor, Senator, and Rhodes Scholar Cory Booker from catching on while Mayor Pete did. Politics is just funny sometimes.

Regardless, Buttigieg managed to have a better-than-expected showing in both Iowa (where he nominally “won”) and New Hampshire (where he nominally finished second). But he’s only barely bounced back into the low-double digits and she’s still hovering around 5% despite lots of people—including other Senators and Governors with arguably more experience—having already left the race.

It’s frankly not obvious why Klobuchar is still hanging on while Booker, Kamala Harris, and so many others have dropped out. It’s hard to conceive of a path to the nomination for her. Even the fabled “brokered convention” is highly unlikely to tab the sixth-place finisher in an epic compromise

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal_10000 says:

    Neither came off well from that exchange. Focusing on Klobuchar blanking on a name was silly Twitter-esque nonsense that no one cares about. Neither of them said anything of substance. Neither is going anywhere. All they’re doing at this point is help clog the moderate lane.

  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’d note that in the current delegate count, Buttgeig is the front runner and Klobuchar is fourth, one delegate behind Warren and one delegate head of Biden.

    Other than letting your personal aesthetics completely overrun your analysis, in what sense are they “the kids’ table”?

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Hal_10000: If Bloomberg takes a big hit and Biden continues his free fall, it’s either Pete or Amy for the “moderate” vote. And Pete has done better in the voting, fundraising, and polling.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’m still looking at the polls, not the allocation of delegates. A couple delegates here or there from Iowa and New Hampshire just don’t matter. In all the polling, he’s in fifth place and she’s in sixth.

  5. Hal_10000 says:

    @James Joyner:

    He has. But if you listen to what Pete says rather than how he says it, he’s not that substantive. I kept that Klobuchar would break out since I think she’s more likely to beat Trump. But one of them needed a great debate last night and neither got it.

    Biden can resurrect himself quite easily. A strong performance in Nevada followed by a great one in South Carolina would get him back in the hunt. Their biggest problem right now is Bloomberg who has enough money and ego to stay in forever but is so awful he can’t actually win. So he’ll just spoil the race for everyone else.

  6. charon says:

    Possibly the field winnows down to just Sanders-Bloomberg.

    More likely, it winnows to 3; Sanders, Bloomberg plus 1 more.

    Thus, there are four people who each need the other three to drop out.

    KLobuchar is looking pretty weak so the others will be gunning to knock her out first.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    If Bloomberg’s boomlet has gone bust, and I suspect it has, the most viable candidates now are 1) Bernie Sanders, and 2) Warren if there’s a brokered convention.

  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    As I said a day or two ago, I’m feeling very cautious about polls right now, since the polls seemed to do so badly at predicting what happened in IA and NH. In golf they say, “drive for show, putt for dough”. I think there’s a parallel here. Delegates are what wins. I remember how Obama schooled Hillary on that in 2008.

  9. Scott says:

    @Hal_10000: Hind sight is 20/20 and all that. I just wish Pete would’ve turned to the moderator and said something like: That’s just a gotcha question and anyone can forget. Do better!

    That would’ve elevated him and done nothing for Klobachar.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    The issue I have with Buttigieg is that he’s so sure he’s the smartest guy in the room, and in terms of verbal IQ he probably is. But he might do better to try and come off a bit less cocky.* As of this moment his real world accomplishments are not in evidence.

    *Yes, I know the same could be said of me. But I’m not running for office.

  11. the Q says:

    How about a Bernie Bloomberg ticket? I know they hate each other but so did LBJ and RFK but they set aside this hatred in their shared goal of beating Nixon.

    Besides, I like the sound of the Jew Crew!!! Bernie can appeal to the disaffected blue collars in the midwest since he has walked the walk with his looooong history of fighting for their jobs as he was opposed to the WTO back in the day as well as every other trade pact since and his well known calling out of companies hollowing out manufacturing to take advantage of offshore loopholes.

    Bloomberg appeals to the small business owners and moderates not too keen on “socialism”.

    I really think this ticket can beat trump.

  12. Hal_10000 says:

    How about a Bernie Bloomberg ticket?

    Good Lord. We’d be a few good sneezes away from President Grassley.

  13. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I have not seen Buttigieg as cocky. Ever.

    Probably a perception thing.

    My mother was flat-out convinced that Obama was uppity. (Also secretly Muslim). I sorta loved her just because she was my mom, but she was a racist, no fooling.

    I perceived Obama as coolly professorial. A dude who willingly and greatfully relied upon wonks and squints. Footnotes to appropriate sources. Better than them at rallying support, but one of them at heart.

    Mom saw him as a scary black radical.


    (Mom was deep, deep into the stereotypical Fox News misapprehension of reality in her last years. That bummed me out, but that was her call.)

    I do not perceive Pete as cocky. I see him him as competent and forthright, granting his relatively tiny experience.

  14. de stijl says:

    @the Q:

    Speaking just for me, both Sanders and Bloomberg are my least favorites of the field. By far.

    Klobuchar, pretty far down my list, is manifestly more preferable.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m not sure any of it matters. I don’t think we’ll be having a real election. Trump is openly inviting Putin to interfere. He’ll have a compliant DCI and has a compliant AG. There is nothing standing between Trump and openly stealing the election. The entire GOP will fall into line. The people are asleep.

    Objectively a country that can be brought down by a clown must have been rotten for a long time. There will be blood, if I can steal a line.

  16. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    St. Louis Park is not even all that Jewish. It is more so than neighboring places. It is a slightly fancy inner ring suburb, not terribly interesting. There are are areas of south St. Paul much more Jewish per capita than SLP.

    That the Coen brothers arose from there, erupted from there, manifested from there, says way less about the where and much more about talent.

    No one in SLP sounds like Fargo unless they moved there from Blackduck last week. We are civilized, sorta.

    Those dudes made up Fargo in their heads, which is so cool.

    One of the prostitutes in the movie was proudly from White Bear Lake. Go Bears!

    That is the type of detail that makes Fargo phenomenally great writing.

  17. de stijl says:

    The little one.

    He was kinda funny lookin’.

    Oh yah? How so?

    Undersung hero – Norm. John Carrol Lynch.

  18. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    I knew a girl from Blackduck. She was pretty cool as fuck. She sang like an angel.

    One of the things that perturbed our scene was that city folk perpetually underestimated country folk. Cool kids from wherever want in. Welcome, I say.

    Talent and skill seals the deal, whether you are from Nord East or from up Nort’.

  19. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Here I am, yammering on about the Coen’s, and There Will Be Blood was Paul Thomas Anderson.

    I am an idiot.

    Have I mentioned how much I like Magnolia?

    I am such a moron.