The Slatest

Buttigieg: When I Called Myself “Victorious” in Iowa, I Didn’t Mean I Won Iowa

Buttigieg, smiling and wearing a blue suit, strides in front of American flags onstage.
Pete Buttigieg in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday night. Win McNamee/Getty Images

As you may have heard, Monday’s Iowa caucuses didn’t turn out to have the outcome anyone expected as far as learning any of the results of the Iowa caucuses went. (They are still TBD; a bug-ridden vote-counting app created by a well-connected Democratic digital strategy firm might be to blame.) That didn’t stop Pete Buttigieg from opening a late-night speech to supporters in Des Moines like so: “Iowa, you have shocked the nation. Because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious!”

You might charitably chalk up this declaration of having achieved victory “by all indications”—made at a time that zero percent of precincts had officially indicated results—as a hyperbolic slip of the tongue during a moment of exuberant overreach. But the Buttigieg campaign tweeted it simultaneously, making clear that its official line was that it had been “victorious” in the first contest of the primary:

Typically, victory is associated with having won something, and with no winner having been officially declared—and with many election wonks guessing based on unofficial/incomplete data that Bernie Sanders, not Buttigieg, would in fact come out ahead in the end—journalists began pressing Buttigieg about his assertion on Tuesday morning. Here he is speaking to Willie Geist on MSNBC and clarifying that the “victory” he was referring to was just having proved in general that he “belonged in this race.”

GEIST: Mr. Mayor, tell me about your decision last night to go out and declare victory. You went up on the stage and said, “We were victorious here tonight.” What did you base that on?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we were looking at the internal numbers that we had and beginning to realize that something extraordinary had happened last night—I mean, here you have a campaign that was really questioned when we first got in, whether we even oughta be here, whether we belonged in this race. And to not only establish that but to reach the position that we did was a clear victory for this campaign. 

GEIST: So not based, though, on anything you heard from the state Democratic Party, for example?

BUTTIGIEG: No, we don’t have anything from the party, at least I don’t, that you wouldn’t have heard as well.

On CNN with John Berman, Buttigieg explained that being “victorious” was a function of internal reports, from supporters who had been at caucuses, which showed that “we have the momentum”:

BERMAN: I understand declaring a moral victory, or beating expectations, or being surprised that you ever got this far, but it did sound as if you were trying to make the claim that you were the official winner last night. And what are your concerns, given the electoral environment we’re in, where we just need to trust results? Why not wait to hear for sure?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we’re going to hear the official results, and, again, that can’t come soon enough. But what we saw and what our precinct information revealed, our data throughout the campaign, is that we have the momentum and stepped on that plane victorious.

BERMAN: Do you feel as if you won the most first-preference votes or the most state delegate equivalents?

BUTTIGIEG: So again we’ve shared the data that we have, and it looks good on all fronts. We’re waiting for the official data to come in, but by any reckoning we had an extraordinary night that is propelling us to victory in New Hampshire.

(The Buttigieg campaign did release internal data early Tuesday, but it covered only 75 percent of precincts and didn’t include any other candidates’ totals, which would generally be considered necessary for declaring victory over those candidates.)

Then there’s this:

One way or the other, it will turn out to have been an extraordinary night for the Buttigieg campaign!