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The inexperience paradox in presidential campaigns

Pete Buttigieg’s Democratic presidential rivals are trying to kill his White House bid by highlighting the very quality that helped get three of the last four presidents elected: inexperience.

“We have a newcomer in the White House and look where it got us,” warned Minnesota’s third-term senator, Amy Klobuchar. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who boasts a near-half-century-long Washington career, is blasting the former mayor’s record as small potatoes in a contemptuous ad. But here’s the problem with their attacks: It’s hard to recall a time when beating up on greenhorns actually worked.

Jeb Bush’s long resume didn’t get him far against newcomer Donald Trump in 2016, and Hillary Clinton’s blasts about his foreign policy inexperience fizzled. Eight years prior, Clinton had targeted rookie senator Barack Obama’s inexperience in a notorious ad — but her own vote as a senator to authorize war in Iraq helped doom her campaign. And in 1992, Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush (who boasted one of the all-time great Washington resumes) because his life outside Washington helped him vocalize the human cost of a recession.

It might seem sensible to argue that Trump’s legacy will require a real Washington fixer to clean up. But presidential campaigns rise on emotion more than logic. Anyone who can cast themselves as an outsider running to purge a corrupt political system has a huge advantage.

“The answers are going to come to Washington, not from Washington,” Buttigieg said over the weekend. It’s a clichéd argument used by nearly every up-and-comer running for Congress, but it works. Naturally, it drives Washington insiders nuts.

‘I heard they had headaches’

The cost of President Trump killing Iranian military supremo Qasem Soleimani is growing. The Pentagon said Monday that more than 100 US troops have now been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, after Iran took revenge by hitting US bases in Iraq with ballistic missiles. Apart from the human cost of such figures, they are an embarrassment for Trump, who earlier had characterized the injuries as “headaches, and a couple of other things,” and told reporters that he didn’t consider such injuries “very serious” compared with other combat wounds.

Trump supporters will argue that the overall gain from eliminating Soleimani is incalculable. But the news from the Pentagon undermines any idea that the President’s ruthlessness cowed Iran from staging an effective retribution. And it’s a reminder that Iran has in the past bided its time before exacting ultimate revenge. This story may be far from over.

Tuesday in New Hampshire

America’s second presidential primary contest is kicking off in New Hampshire, known here as the Granite State. After the vote-counting chaos in Iowa, here’s what to watch for:

Who comes fourth? Oddly enough, the most interesting action may be down the field. Biden can barely afford another fourth spot to match his Iowa caucuses disappointment. But if Klobuchar skips past him and he comes in fifth, political pundits will start writing his campaign obituary.

Who shows up? A sluggish turnout in Iowa last week alarmed Democratic leaders banking on a huge November turnout to oust Trump. Another weak showing would rock liberals. But in New Hampshire, independents can vote in either party primary, so a crossover vote could boost turnout — and moderates like Buttigieg, Biden or Klobuchar.

Who wins? Most people expect Bernie Sanders to win on what is nearly home turf for the Vermonter. He and another New Englander, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, were once seen as the top two contenders in the Granite State. But if Buttigieg pulls out a surprise win, the midwestern mayor would get more value from a first-place spot than Sanders would. And another third place for Warren would be a blow, so close to home.

Number of the day: 25%

Sanders tops the Democratic primary race with 25% support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, according to a new Quinnipiac national poll released on Monday. Following him are Biden (17%), former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (15%), Warren (14%), Buttigieg (10%) and Klobuchar ( 4%). No other candidate receives above 2% in the poll.

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