That’s what the victory-without-a-victory speech he gave last night was about.
Read: Chaos at the Caucus
Compare Buttigieg’s message with that of Joe Biden, who gave a shorter, less scripted speech. “We feel good about where we are,” the former vice president said. “We’re going to do this, I promise you. I promise you we’re going to get this done. God willing, we’ll do it together. On to New Hampshire!”
The preliminary results that had come in by then were from caucus sites clustered around cities, where voters’ education levels and ideological inclinations would seem to make them prime Buttigieg pickups. Even those results were sparse; Buttigieg’s campaign was also working off data that its own network was gathering from around the state. Buttigieg apparently saw enough to feel like he could go hard. “Iowa chose a new path,” he announced. American democracy had taken another credibility hit through the cockamamie collapse of the caucus. Just like when George W. Bush announced, in the middle of the 2000 Florida recount, that Colin Powell would be his secretary of state, Buttigieg tried to convey that he had the situation under control.
As with nearly everything Buttigieg does, this was deliberate. His campaign was aware of how much he’d annoy the other candidates by undercutting them, but staffers were willing to take the backlash for the sake of breaking through to voters who just wanted a sense of who won.
“Peak white male privilege,” tweeted Meena Harris, the niece of Senator Kamala Harris, another Democratic presidential candidate until she suspended her campaign in December, “is declaring victory with 0% of precincts reporting.” This morning, the former Massachusetts governor and trailing presidential candidate Deval Patrick lumped Buttigieg in with Biden, whose campaign jumped out front in seeding suspicion about the results: “One candidate is calling the results into question because he apparently didn’t do well. Another is declaring victory without any votes being confirmed. The way to beat Donald Trump isn’t to act like Donald Trump.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota tried an aggressive move of her own, giving the first speech of the night. Acknowledging that the process was going slower than expected, she argued that “we are punching above our weight.” A few minutes after Klobuchar finished, Biden suddenly appeared onstage at his party. By the time he finished his brief remarks, his campaign had sent out a protest letter to the Iowa Democratic Party complaining about the counting delays. Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts talked about being in the campaign for the “long haul”—something many politicians say when a primary or caucus night doesn’t turn out the way they’d hoped. Buttigieg, by contrast, said he was “one step closer to becoming the next president of the United States.”