Moving to stunt Pete Buttigieg’s rise in the 2020 presidential race, the far-left of the Democratic Party is sharpening its attacks against the South Bend, Indiana, mayor — casting him as a calculated, silver-tongued politician who has shown he will not be a warrior for their causes.
Allies of Sens. Bernard Sanders and Elizabeth Warren say Mr. Buttigieg has flip-flopped on “Medicare for All” — a charge his campaign dismisses as a clear attempt to distort his views.
Waleed Shahid, spokesman for Justice Democrats, the group that helped launch Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into political stardom, is warning that “Buttigieg was for Medicare for All before he was against it.”
“He realized he was never going to beat Warren and Sanders as a progressive,” Mr. Shahid wrote in an email blast Wednesday. “He got scared of the fight. He realized he could raise tons of cash from corporate executives in the pharmaceutical and insurance industry.”
Mr. Buttigieg’s support has spiked in the polls since the last debate where he argued that the Medicare for All push, which would basically abolish private insurance, is a bridge too far for most voters.
The millennial mayor, who has raised more money than anyone in the race besides Mr. Sanders, also questioned why Ms. Warren had been so evasive about sharing the details of her health care vision when her campaign slogan is “I have a plan for that.”
Mr. Buttigieg is offering up an alternative vision, running on a “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan that features a government-run public option for consumers and that would allow employer-sponsored and private health insurance plans to stay intact.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls showing Mr. Buttigieg running neck-and-neck with Ms. Warren in Iowa and gaining ground in New Hampshire and in national polls.
The 37-year-old is likely to have a bigger target on his back when the candidates square off next week in Atlanta for the fifth presidential debate.
Ms. Warren appeared to telegraph a line of attack at the Iowa Democratic Party Liberty and Justice fundraiser this month, telling the thousands in attendance, “I am not running some consultant-driven campaign with some vague ideas that are designed not to offend anyone.”
Her remarks came after she rolled out the details of her Medicare for All plan and on the heels of a New York Times/Siena poll showed 56% of likely Iowa caucus-goers favored a candidate who “promises to improve the existing health insurance system.” That compared to 42% who preferred a candidate who “promises to replace the current health care system with Medicare for All.”
“With Pete gaining momentum, the number of attacks are starting to escalate, including from the Justice Democrats who have inaccurately accused Pete of changing his position on Medicare for All over the summer,” Sean Savett, a spokesman for the Buttigieg campaign, said Wednesday.
“Here’s the truth: From the outset, Pete has been consistent in how he describes his health care position and his position is the one preferred by the American people,” Mr. Savett said.
Asked about where he stood on Medicare for All months before he launched his bid, Mr. Buttigieg told The Washington Times in a December 2018 interview that he believed in Medicare for All, but added: “I believe in other ways to get there too.”
“I am not, like, dogmatic about it,” he said. “So if the near-term answer is ‘Medicare for more,’ I think that could be smart.”
Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders also have backed a public option, co-sponsoring legislation in the Senate, where Mr. Sanders has led the Medicare for All charge.
Liberal activists, though, maintain Mr. Buttigieg is waffling on the subject, pointing out past tweets and comments he has made in which he has advocated for Medicare for All and a single-payer system.
Mr. Shahid posted video footage on social media of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez cautioning that one of the things politicians tell voters “in order to settle us down is ‘I agree with you. We have the same goals.’”
Mr. Buttigieg, meanwhile, has been making the case that people should have a choice when it comes to their health-care coverage and released a television ad Wednesday featuring voters praising his health care plan.
“Medicare for all that want it is very important,” said a voter named Michelle. “We have to have people have the choice to keep their private health insurance or to go on the Medicare plan.”
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