To paraphrase Alicia Keys, we keep on fallin’ . . . in and out of love . . .
And at the moment, the presidential candidate who many media types — and quite a few citizens — are tumbling for is 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg, also known as Mayor Pete of South Bend, Ind.
His fundraising is spiking.
His numbers on the prediction markets come with a green arrow pointed straight up.
And media figures are fallin’ — all over themselves — to give him the kind of attention that hasn’t been seen since . . . well, since a couple of weeks ago when the flavor of the month was Beto O’Rourke. (Remember that Vanity Fair cover story and the wall-to-wall coverage of his launch?)
It’s a little over the top.
Here, for example, was CNN’s Chris Cillizza, commenting on Twitter about some comparative fundraising — specifically numbers announced by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Buttigieg.
“The $12 million for Harris makes Buttigieg’s $7 million look that much better,” Cillizza wrote about their first-quarter numbers.
Well, infatuation has never been good for clear vision. And Cillizza is far from alone in what sounds a bit like adulation.
New York Times columnist David Brooks explained Americans to themselves this week with his column, “Why You Love Mayor Pete.” (It’s because, Brooks posits, Buttigieg “detaches progressive policy from the culture war.”)
And the columnist hyperbolically called Buttigieg’s new prominence “the biggest star-is-born moment since Lady Gaga started singing ‘Shallow.’ ”
Even “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah joined in, reciting Buttigieg’s gold-plated background: “He’s a veteran, a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar who’s openly gay and also so young that if he served two terms as president, when he came out he would still only be 46. Plus, he’s a concert pianist and speaks seven languages, including Norwegian, which he learned just so that he could read Norwegian books.”
Noah admitted that this was all very glowing. But, he explained, there’s nothing else to report: “There’s no dirt on this guy. Like, nothing.”
And the politics news site Axios offered a rave headline: “Interest in Pete Buttigieg is exploding.” The piece itself, a bit underwhelmingly, was based on the comparative number of Facebook and Twitter interactions on articles about the candidates.
Buttigieg wasn’t completely without notice before the CNN town hall in Austin last month that brought him to the attention of a big audience.
A 2014 story in The Washington Post, for example, was headlined “The most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of” and detailed how the then-32-year-old mayor was temporarily leaving his post while he deployed to Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve.
But it was two more recent media appearances that made all the difference — the CNN town hall at South by Southwest in Austin and, soon afterward, a much-praised hit on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Host Joe Scarborough said afterward that he was “overwhelmed” by the response: “The only other time in 12 years that we heard from as many people about a guest” was after an appearance by the pre-presidential Barack Obama.
To some extent, opinionators are just following the legitimate curiosity and response of citizens to an upstart candidate.
And, reality check: Although Mayor Pete’s name seems to be everywhere, he’s actually getting relatively little cable news coverage — fewer mentions last week than O’Rourke or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).
But there was a bright note even there. In a week dominated by speculation about the completed report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Buttigieg’s cable mentions were the only ones that didn’t nosedive, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
What Buttigieg has is momentum and a certain kind of high-level media attention — columns and think pieces aplenty. There are plenty of Google searches of his name and enough donations to clear the bar for inclusion in Democratic Party debates.
But, as my colleague Philip Bump noted in a cool-headed analysis this week:
“Where Buttigieg hasn’t exactly soared is in polling. It’s certainly the case that for him to be outpacing U.S. senators in primary polling is no small feat. But in RealClearPolitics’s average of primary polls, Buttigieg is at 2.3 percent support — good enough for seventh place.”
And when it comes to substantial policy positions, he’s not quite there yet. “Buttigieg’s bare-bones website has no issues page (despite his emerging reputation as a big-thinking candidate),” noted Zack Beauchamp in Vox.
A young, promising politician having his media moment can be captivating. It’s part of what makes politics a great spectator sport. And it might even turn out to mean something.
But, remember, we’ve been here before. Howard Dean had his moment in 2003. So did Herman Cain in 2011.
Somehow, life went on. Pulse rates returned to their normal levels.
So before we breathlessly agree that Mayor Pete is the next Obama — and sure to be the first millennial president — it might be wise to recall that he hasn’t even officially declared his candidacy.
Deep breaths, everyone.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan