Are Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg really rivals?

Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg is the youngest member of the Biden administration. He’ll be forty next January, younger than any man to ascend to the presidency so far. If he secures his party’s nomination in 2024 and wins the election, he’ll become the youngest person elected president, a few months younger than John F. Kennedy.

Buttigieg probably had no illusions that he would be the party’s nominee when he mounted his first-ever bid for president two years ago. He outperformed, at least on paper, rivals like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in Iowa and did well in New Hampshire, but couldn’t keep the momentum going. No hard break; did we mention he’s exceptionally young?

Buttigieg became the nineteenth U.S. Secretary of Transportation back in February. He’s the first openly gay Cabinet member in the nation’s history. Despite his youth, Buttigieg has made incredible strides.

Also sitting at the table for Cabinet meetings is the Vice President of the United States. Her name is Kamala Harris. She’s the first woman to every have that job. She’s the daughter of a Black man and an Indian woman, too, making her both the first Asian American and the first African American to hold the vice presidency. She’s 57, still fairly young – particularly when we remember that the current president is the oldest ever and before that the previous president was the oldest ever – and her accomplishments are many: prosecutor, Attorney General of California, U.S. Senator. And, of course, vice president.

These two barrier-breakers have a lot in common, but if you look at media coverage lately you’ll get the sense that maybe they’re not exactly best friends. Back in August, Axios claimed that wealthy Harris supporters were concerned she might no longer be the presumptive front-runner in 2024. “Kamala Harris’ team reportedly worried about ‘messy’ 2024 fight with Pete Buttigieg,” SFGate proclaimed on October 29. “The Joe Biden Succession Drama is Swallowing Kamala Harris,” warned Vanity Fair two weeks later. Harris was “sidelined” in the fall as Biden pushed an infrastructure initiative that would give the spotlight to Buttigieg, the man who would be in charge of overseeing a massive boost in transportation spending.

What dogs the pair is Joe Biden. For all their youth, their boss is enjoying the last year of his seventies. He demurred on the campaign trail about whether he would seek re-election but said last month he’s going to run again. That might just be a tactic, though, to quell the rampant speculation that risks turning him into a lame duck president. When Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey tweets an endorsement for Manchester, N.H. Mayor Joyce Craig’s re-election, it has to raise red flags: does Booker care that much about who runs Manchester, or does he care about who has influence in the largest city in a vital primary state?

The vice president, who ran California’s justice system, spends much of her time on tasks that build her foreign policy skills. Secretary Buttigieg, a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer, spends his time strengthening his domestic skills. It’s hard to ignore that each is clearly building up their credentials for another presidential bid. But is that bid really 2024, or is this cooked up by a press hungry for the kinds of stories that dominated the Trump administration?

Buttigieg, for his part, told NBC’s Meet the Press that it’s the latter: “There’s no room to get caught up in the parlor games, and I’m proud to be part of the Biden-Harris team.”

That might make more sense than a real rivalry. First off, with all the dysfunction of the Democratic primary system, there’s no guarantee that either Harris or Buttigieg would emerge the nominee in 2024 or even 2028. Moreover, the appearance of a rivalry is based on the fact that the administration’s first signature deal is a DOT bill, and Buttigieg heads the DOT. Harris and Buttigieg are out promoting it, which is supposedly proof that they’re trying to publicly mend their relationship, but is probably just because the administration wants early credit for the watershed infrastructure bill.