Although Pete Buttigieg ultimately dropped out of the 2020 presidential race and acquired the nickname “Mayo Pete” for being so bland, he gained a surprising amount of popularity during the primaries. Despite being a 38-years-old, openly gay small-town mayor, Buttigieg managed to raise more than $76 million in 2019. For all his unexpected popularity and uniqueness, however, Buttigieg was lost among the other candidates. Unlike Bernie Sanders, he did not start a grassroots movement among young voters. Unlike fellow moderates Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, he did not have a long career in politics. Critics doubted his sincerity and earnestness.
When Buttigieg dropped out of the primaries, it seemed like that would be the end of the politician on the national stage. However, as the 2020 presidential election draws to a close and political polarization continues to grow, he has re-emerged as an unlikely voice of reason. Tweets, TikToks and Instagram posts that showcase Buttigieg’s interviews on conservative television channel Fox News have gained thousands of retweets, comments and likes. He is going viral.
Pete Buttigieg and Fox News
There are two Fox News interviews that have recently become viral: an interview about the vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence and the interview about President Donald Trump refusing to virtually debate with Biden. Clips from the interviews have been viewed millions of times with people on social media calling him “savage” and making him the shining example of how Democrats should approach Fox News. The clips have gone so viral that Trump felt threatened enough to tweet against him: “Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete, as Chris Wallace likes to call him. Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems.”
Buttigieg’s interviews are such a startling contrast to other recent political interviews and conversations. He faces questions head-on, leans into facts and calmly presents logical arguments. In the interview about the vice presidential debate, he shocked Fox News panelists into silence. When asked about why Harris was changing her stance on certain policies to fit Biden’s campaign, he bluntly said, “There’s a classic parlor game of trying to find a little bit of daylight between running mates.” To drive his point home, Buttigieg puts Trump and Pence under the spotlight by stating, “If people want to play that game, we could look into why an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence wants to be on a ticket with a president caught with a porn star.” Neither of the Fox News hosts could say or ask anything in response.
In the interview about Trump’s refusal to participate in a virtual debate, Buttigieg called out Trump’s actions while presenting Trump in opposition to the American people: “All of us have had to get used to virtual formats … Parents are, you know, having to deal with e-learning … we’re having to take meetings over Zoom. It’s not something I think most of us enjoy, but it’s a safety measure. And I think part of why the U.S. is falling behind, is badly behind the rest of the developed world on dealing with the pandemic is because every time there’s been a choice between doing something that’s more safe, or less safe, this president seems to push forward less safe … I don’t know why you’d want to be in a room with other people if you were contagious with a deadly disease.” Instead of arguing with him, the Fox News host can be heard giving encouraging noises.
This was not the first time that Buttigieg managed to amaze Fox News. Back in 2019, Buttigieg received a standing ovation from a Fox News town hall while talking about late-term abortion, a taboo topic for most conservative voters. Additionally, he brings up an important point about having Democrats on Fox News: “You know, a lot of folks in my party were critical of me for even doing this with Fox News … But I also believe that even though some of those hosts are not always there in good faith, I think a lot of people tune into this network who do it in good faith. And there are a lot of Americans who my party can’t blame if they are ignoring our message ‘cause they will never hear it if we don’t go on and talk about it.”
His statements clash with Elizabeth Warren, who refuses to have a town hall with Fox News; she calls the cable network a “hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists.” Whether or not her opinion resonates with the majority of people, Fox News remains the most-watched TV network in the United States.
Political Polarization and Its Consequences
The refusal of liberal politicians to appear on conservative media and vice versa is a symptom of a disease that is infecting American politics: political polarization. Beyond just policy disagreements, political polarization is when groups of people intentionally isolate and segregate themselves from others who have a different viewpoint. American political polarization is on the rise with politicians and the American public voting along party lines.
More people today are saying that it is stressful to have political disagreements with others, so much so that it is cutting Thanksgiving dinners shorter. Disagreements erupting into antagonism and violence have become more prevalent. In 1960, only 10% of political ads were negative. In 2012, only 14% of political ads were positive. America is now more accustomed to bashing others than promoting themselves. Hates crimes and support for political violence have risen. Lying and distrust have become more prevalent. Lying to “outsiders” and presenting “alternative facts” have become more socially acceptable.
People are more likely to demonize their opponents than they used to. According to a Pew poll, Republicans with “few or no Democratic friends are twice as likely to rate Democrats coldly than Republicans who have some Democratic friends.” Institutions like higher education are being ripped apart by polarization. The Supreme Court, a branch of the government that is supposed to be bipartisan, has become desecrated by partisan politics — look at the current controversial Justice nomination.
While Buttigieg’s actions on Fox News may seem small in the grand scheme of things, he is trying to bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives. Maybe one day, we can go back to a time when political opponents were able to joke about and defend each other.