Pete Buttigieg is 37. And at Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, the South Bend, Ind., mayor made sure everyone knew it.
“This is the exact same conversation we have been having since I was in high school,” Buttigieg said when asked about gun violence.
He then noted that he was “a junior when the Columbine shooting happened,” in case any viewers missed his point that he was, relative to the candidates around him, young.
In fact, if he wins in 2020, Buttigieg would be the youngest person elected president in American history.
By humblebragging about his youth again and again on the national debate stage, the mayor was betting he could sell it to Democratic primary voters as an asset rather than a liability — a chance, as he put it Tuesday, “to walk away from the past and do something different.”
Buttigieg’s debate strategy was abundantly clear in the way he dismissed the “conversation” around every issue that came up: by drawing attention to the fact that he is too young to remember a time before it.
“We’ve been talking about the same framework for my entire adult lifetime,” Buttigieg said when talk turned to the topic of immigration.
“Still the conversation that we’ve been having for 20 years,” he said when asked about getting money out of politics.
“I thought I was one of the last troops leaving Afghanistan,” he said, reminding voters not only that he served in uniform, but that he served in uniform this century rather than last.
“My generation has lived this [crisis] as long as we have been alive,” he said in his opening statement, previewing pretty much every sound bite he would deliver for the rest of the night. “We are not going to be able to meet this moment by recycling the same arguments, policies and politicians that have dominated Washington for as long as I have been alive.”
Buttigieg even used his closing statement to paint a dire picture of global warming and gun violence circa 2030 — and inform the audience that “I’ll be in my 40s then.”
Buttigieg’s millennial messaging isn’t new; he often says on the stump that “I think a lot about how the world’s going to look in 2054 — when I get to the current age of the current president.” But he was so persistent Tuesday that, as the night drew to a close, CNN co-moderator Don Lemon seemed compelled to ask whether voters should “take age into consideration.”
“I don’t care how old you are — I care about your vision,” Buttigieg replied. But, he added, “I do think it matters that we have a new generation of leaders stepping up around the world” — a trend he “thought America would be leading.”
Lemon then directed the same question to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 77, one of two candidates in the race who are more than twice as old as Buttigieg. (The other is 76-year-old Joe Biden.)
“Pete is right,” Sanders said. “It is question of vision — whether you’re young, whether you’re old, whether you’re in-between.”
Not everyone onstage seemed to agree, however. During the gun violence discussion, Buttigieg responded to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s promise not to “fold” to the NRA by claiming that “this is the exact same conversation we’ve been having since I was in high school.”
Klobuchar just shook her head and scoffed.
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