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It would tax even the prodigious powers of the late novelist Tom Wolfe to create a more poignant political scene than a bright, young, white mayor of a small city, who is an upstart presidential candidate and progressive darling, getting yelled at by black residents during a town hall.

The mayor, of course, is Pete Buttigieg. A controversial shooting of a black resident by a white police officer in his city of South Bend, Ind., occasioned the emotional meeting. Mayor Pete handled himself ably enough, yet the episode still highlights the manifest shortcomings of his candidacy.

Rich Lowry mug

Rich Lowry

The elite media fell in love with Buttigieg, not just because he’s genuinely talented, but because he’s the type of candidate — young, earnest, credentialed, progressive but with a self-image as an ideologically moderate pragmatist — it always falls in love with.

It is attracted to the idea of an intellectual candidate. This doesn’t literally mean someone with deep intellectual interests or genuine accomplishments — think the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan — but an impressive academic resume, a copy of The New Yorker on the nightstand and marked verbal acuity.

In this sense, Pete Buttigieg is the new Barack Obama, except with limits that will likely keep him from reaching the next level.

Last week’s town hall brought home just how small-scale Buttigieg’s day job is.

He’s mayor of roughly the 300th-largest city in America. He could govern a city twice the size of South Bend — say, Glendale, Calif., or Fayetteville, N.C. — and still not crack the list of the top 100 cities in the country.

Some county supervisors have more power.

Any locality in America, of whatever size, would be rocked by a police shooting. It’s notable, all the same, how hyperlocal the South Bend town hall felt.

This wasn’t a local official, a governor or a mayor grappling with a terror attack or a natural disaster; it was Mayor Pete presiding over a meeting that any member of a local community board is intimately familiar with.

Sure, Obama had little experience, and no executive experience, but he’d ascended to the U.S. Senate. Donald Trump had zero political experience. But not everyone can be a black swan.

Trump, of course, came from entirely outside politics, whereas Mayor Pete is an ambitious politician from central casting: class valedictorian in high school, president of the Harvard Institute of Politics, mayor at age 29.

The hostility of some of the black residents toward Buttigieg at the town hall underlined his lack of African American support. In a May poll in South Carolina, Buttigieg was at 18 percent among whites and zero among blacks. An Indiana poll had him at 25 percent among whites and also zero percent among blacks.

Among whites, Buttigieg tends to run like Bernie Sanders, far behind Joe Biden but strong compared with the rest of the pack; among blacks, he runs like Kirsten Gillibrand or another laggard, hardly registering.

Buttigieg doesn’t have the long history with African Americans of Biden or the cultural connection of a Southern pol like Bill Clinton. And blacks aren’t moved by his progressivism in a technocratic guise.

His support is clustered among wealthy, white Democrats who are very liberal.

With a moderate mien, a narrative that emphasizes the importance of place (he went home to his native South Bend), Midwest roots and some practical successes as mayor, Buttigieg would seem perfect on paper to reach out beyond the woke white element of the party. This isn’t how he’s running, though.

If Buttigieg actually won the nomination, it’d be because he’d found a way to broaden his appeal. But he’d still project to have real general-election vulnerabilities, suited neither to recapturing working-class voters in the Midwest nor to juicing African American turnout.

Be that as it may, and whatever his struggles back in South Bend, Buttigieg is going to come out of this with a hell of a collection of press clippings.

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Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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(6) comments

oldhomey

Well, this truly is an eye-opener, coming from Mr. Lowry. I had NO idea how rotten Mayor Pete is in every respect compared to the president Mr. Lowry so stoutly supports.

martian2

Lowry misses the mark again on his ticky tack column focused on Buttigeig. The wider issue here is the random shootings of minorities by police. The bigger story is about inadequate training and continued training for police. when budgets get tight, the first thing that goes is continuous training for police officers. Blacks and other minorities are tired of being treated differently and with deadly force. South Bend may be a dump but that is not the point. When are we as a country going to wake up to the injustice going on with our police and court system. Lowry would of had a lot to chew on with that one.

DMoney

I spent time recently in South Bend IN. What a dump.

PhysicsIsFun

... and it has been long before Buttigieg came on the scene. The loss of industrial jobs has hurt the Midwest in a big way., but South Bend was never a garden spot.

DMoney

Figured the city with Notre Dame would be decent. Everyone must leave after graduating.

oldhomey

Well, ain't that the truth of all those big, liberal cities that you bravely venture into from time to time, D, emerging to give us your breathless report on what you think you have seen? I would ask you for a more detailed report, but somehow I doubt I would find it very enlightening.

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