Pete Buttigieg Attacked From Start To Finish At New Hampshire Democratic Debate

Fresh off his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, Buttigieg had a bigger target on his back.

MANCHESTER, N.H. ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) passed up an opportunity to echo one of his surrogate’s attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden at Friday’s Democratic presidential debate, saying he was “a friend of mine, and I’m not here to attack him.” 

They even gave each other a hug at one point. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the Democratic presidential primary debate
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the Democratic presidential primary debate Friday at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

But Pete Buttigieg was not so lucky. And he did not get any hugs. 

Throughout the night, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, received a barrage of criticism over his lack of experience, his record on race and policing, his stance on single-payer health care, his views of President Donald Trump and the accomplishments of President Barack Obama.

It’s not hard to see why. Buttigieg finished in a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses ― exceeding predictions ― and several polls have shown him surging in New Hampshire ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) unloaded on Buttigieg early in the night by suggesting the former mayor of a mid-size city in Indiana wasn’t experienced enough to take on Trump.

She criticized him for complaints he made last week about how the Senate impeachment proceedings had been tiring and made him want to watch other television programming. 

“You said it was exhausting to watch and that you wanted to turn the channel and watch cartoons,” Klobuchar said, telling Buttigieg that the remark may have made him look “like a cool newcomer” but that it wasn’t appropriate.

“I don’t think that’s what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House, and look what that got us,” she said.

Buttigieg responded by saying that he had more to offer than those who work in the “big white buildings in Washington, D.C.,” citing his military service overseas. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), meanwhile, got in on the action after Buttigieg was asked by the debate moderators about his record on race and policing in South Bend. Buttigieg faced criticism from the city’s black leaders last year over several policing-related controversies.

“The reality is, on my watch, drug arrests in South Bend were lower than the national average, and specifically to marijuana, lower than in Indiana,” Buttigieg said. “But there is no question that systemic racism has penetrated to every level of our system, and my city was not immune. I took a lot of heat for discussing systemic racism with my own police department, but we’ve got to confront the fact that there is no escaping how this is part of all of our policies.”

Asked by a moderator if she was satisfied by Buttigieg’s answer, Warren said, “No.”

She dismissed his answer as lacking in substance. 

“You have to own up to the facts. And it’s important to own up to the facts about how race has totally permeated our criminal justice system,” Warren said, noting studies that find Black Americans face systemically harsher treatment than whites.

“But we cannot say that criminal justice is the only time we want to talk about race specifically,” she said, calling for “race-conscious laws” on issues like housing. 

“You can’t just repeal that and say, ‘OK, now everything is even ― it’s not,’” she added. “We need race-conscious laws in education, in employment, in entrepreneurship to make this country a country of opportunity for everyone.

Buttigieg also took heat from Klobuchar over his stance on “Medicare for All,” the single-payer health care program. The Minnesota senator accused him of flip-flopping on the issue after once saying he supported the program. Buttigieg, however, maintained he has been “consistent throughout” on health care. 

That’s not to say that the other candidates sailed through unscathed. Biden went after Sanders on guns, saying, “He voted to give the gun manufacturers, the only major industry in America, a loophole that does not allow them to be sued for the carnage they are creating.”

And he criticized Sanders on Medicare for All legislation, saying, “He says he wrote the damn thing, but he’s unwilling to tell us what the damn thing is going to cost.”

But Buttigieg was the man to take down. Although both he and Sanders emerged as the winners of the Iowa caucuses, Buttigieg’s performance was much stronger than expected ― and it put a target on his back. 

Candidates began previewing their attacks this week on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, which will go to the polls Tuesday. 

Sanders used Buttigieg as an example of what’s wrong with the political system at an event in Manchester on Friday morning, reading off headlines portraying him as the favorite candidate of billionaires and Wall Street.

And Wednesday, Biden took issue with Buttigieg’s criticisms of the old system in Washington, accusing him of calling the Obama administration a failure at a rally in New Hampshire: “Is he really saying the Obama-Biden administration was a failure? Pete, just say it out loud.”

But surrogates for Buttigieg’s campaign maintained that Friday’s attacks on their candidate failed to blunt his momentum, calling his support a “movement.”

“I think Pete rose to the occasion tonight. He was presidential this evening,” said Maura Sullivan, the Buttigieg campaign’s New Hampshire co-chair.

Sullivan, a veteran who served in the Pentagon under Obama, added that Buttigieg’s campaign had an “Obama-like feeling.”

“It’s electric, it’s magical, you can just feel it,” she said.