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The Problematic Pete Wars

The very online left is very annoyed with Mayor Pete.
December 6, 2019
The Problematic Pete Wars
There's a new scarlet letter (GettyImages)

Last week a problematic photo of Pete Buttigieg “surfaced” on Twitter dot com.

Problematic photos and videos about Mayor Pete seem to be “surfacing” to political reporters all the time these days, framed as if they were Milkshake Cicadas randomly emerging from the ground to serve their earthly purpose as objects of cancelation. After all, something “surfacing” sounds more scandalous and newsworthy than writing what’s rather obvious: that a political adversary is texting reporters clips they’ve found following a period of oppo diving on Twitter’s advanced search.

So what did this shocking surfaced photo reveal? Was Pete present at a cross burning? Was he grabbing a woman by the pussy? Had he “darkened his face” on several occasions? Was he wearing these absolutely hideous pants again?

No. Please brace yourself for the horrifying truth.

An earmuff-clad Pete Buttigieg stood in the cold outside a South Bend restaurant asking people to donate money to those in need. And he did so with—dun dunh DUNNNHHHH . . .


You might think that this absurd attack on Buttigieg would be met by widespread guffaws. But that wasn’t the case. At least one of Mayor Pete’s foes thought it was a big enough problem to share it with Out. Then NBC picked up the story unironically. And then liberal commentators shared it in concurrence as did a whole spate of left-wing Twitter power users, with one blue checkmark instructing Buttigieg that it’s “time to drop out, sis.” 

But what’s really odd is that Salvation Army-gate is just the latest in a series of absolutely batshit insane attacks on Mayor Pete. In just the last few weeks, Buttigieg—a mild-mannered Midwesterner who has been tucking in his shirt since grade school—has sparked blinding, irrational hatred from the online left. It’s a strange new disrespect from the identity politics set, given that Buttigieg is mounting a historic candidacy as the first credible gay presidential candidate in American history.

Of course, if you aren’t a frequenter of progressive Twitter—or if you are an Iowa caucusgoer who has vaulted Pete to the top of the polls—you might not even realize this is all happening. So I’d like to take you on a penny tour through some of the more maniacal Buttigieg “problems” that have “surfaced” as we enter this holiday season of fellowship.

On Wednesday, David Klion, a contributor to the Nation, retweeted a thread which accused Pete of keeping a “token black woman” by his side recently and featured several pictures of her. “This is the 9th sighting since I noticed…Mayor Pete is an exploitative twerp.”

The woman in question, Nina Smith, is a veteran of multiple Democratic campaigns and Pete’s traveling press secretary. She joined the campaign in May. It’s unclear exactly why Klion and the Twitter user “@net-enforcer” feel entitled to demean Smith as a token. You might say they are erasing her agency in an attempt to enforce their own views of identity. Who could say?

Meanwhile Teen Vogue, which has unironically become a Democratic Socialist magazine that appeals to Red Rose Twitter, published an article about “Petey Bourgeoius” premised on the fact that he “almost too perfectly represents a danger Karl Marx raises” because his aw shucks appeal is masking his fealty to the ruling class.

(Another story currently on Marxist Teen Vogue: 25 days of splurging.” Really makes you think.)

Mediaite, meanwhile, published a dispatch from the Pete campaign bus that is so psychotic you need to read it yourself, but it can best be described as a stream of consciousness ranting from an unwell street corner preacher who is screaming ludicrous questions while the candidate responds to them calmly. Mediaite framed the article as “Pete Buttigieg Does Not Want You To Read This Interview.” People did read it, and they laughed.

The Root published an article that was widely praised on the left titled “Pete Buttigieg is a Lying MF” which was premised on an 8-year-old “surfaced” clip in which Pete makes a common argument about how sometimes people in lower income, minority neighborhoods don’t have role models they know personally who testify to the value of education. Offering a different perspective as someone who grew up in one of those communities to shed some light on blind spots that Mayor Pete had would be one thing and something Pete clearly welcomes as evidenced by his return call to the author. Using it as the launching point for calling him a “lying motherfucker” in a disdain-soaked essay is just a wee bit out there.

There has been an absolutely bizarre series of articles about how Buttigieg isn’t “gay enough,” most notably this one from the New Republic that referred to him repeatedly as “Mary Pete” and projected onto him a desire to hook up with an older man in a bus station. It was so bad that TNR retracted it and deleted it from their site. Politico published a confounding article premised on a few lesbian Democratic activists who weren’t supporting Pete. It is unclear why there should be an expectation that Pete would earn the vote of every living lesbian—or gay man, for that matter.

Prominent online Democrats have said that Pete’s success, coming in spite of low polling with black voters, is a sign of white supremacy. This is a real thing.

He’s also been blindly accused of open racism. Also a real thing.

A Vice headline accused him of supporting a literal India-style caste system. Adam Jentleson, a noted Twitter antagonist to Mayor Pete and former advisor to Harry Reid—who was, just so we’re clear, not exactly the wokest horse in the barnshared an accusation that Buttigieg has “high hopes of reinforcing systemic racism.”

Back in my days of doing rapid response for Republicans, that would have been a pretty serious charge. And that’s especially the case when a Democratic strategist is accusing fellow Democrats of supporting “systemic racism”—a claim like that is liable to end up in a Trump campaign Facebook ad aimed at depressing the black vote should Buttigieg wind up on the eventual Democratic ticket.

Some teens on TikTok—the hot new social site owned and controlled by the Chinese government which absolutely does not have any incentive to meddle in U.S. elections—have taken to calling him “Mayo Pete” and the progressive press has lapped it up, spilling substantial digital ink on this brilliant pun and brutally mocking the earnest Pete volunteers who sparked the meme by daring to show some off enthusiasm for politics through a cheesy dance number.

It isn’t just the online left. Pete seems to be driving most of his opponents batty.

The New York Times reported last month about how Buttigieg is the candidate who most “annoys” his rivals. Not a single campaign or candidate took the opportunity to offer even the most basic lip service to Pete for breaking a barrier as the first serious gay presidential candidate. Nor did any rival give him a polite shout-out on Veteran’s Day despite being  one of only two veterans in the Democratic race. Instead they complained about his privilege as a man.

Before dropping out of the race, Kamala Harris accused Pete of equating his gayness with blackness. (Not true.) Buttigieg’s success seems to have turned Julian Castro into a Gladys Lehman pageant mom who doesn’t understand why her child isn’t winning. Castro shared a fabricated supposed quote from Buttigieg. (He later retracted it.) And Castro has been ranting to anyone who will listen about the size of San Antonio and the advantages Buttigieg has been given by the media. Castro, of course, had no complaints about the media when, as a mayor of a mid-size city in 2012, he was bathed in adoration while delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

What is it about Buttigieg that has melted the brains of his rivals and their Twitter stans?

His policy agenda would be to the left of any platform ever put forth by a major party nominee, yet he’s treated by progressives as if he’s a sinister clone of Willard Mitt Romney. Nothing has “surfaced” about his past that reveals any hidden agenda besides that of the typical earnest, left-wing striver. In fact, the most jarring “surfacing” I’ve seen this year is the revelation that young Pete was the original Bernie bro, having submitted an essay in 2000 in praise of one Senator Bernard Sanders.

And none of this is to say that Buttigieg is beyond criticism and question. He’s certainly not. The scandal in the South Bend police force deserves scrutiny on the campaign trail. So does the question of whether or not a 37 year-old small-town mayor really has the experience to manage the federal government. And both the right and left can come up with plenty of policy areas to draw contrasts with Buttigieg.

But calling him a bus-stop hooking, white-supremacy defending, homophobic, Manchurian Republican tool of the corporate elite is . . . well . . . as the Pete trolls might say, “that ain’t it, chiefs.”

From my admittedly outside vantage point, it seems like the lunacy of the attacks stems from a few places.

The first is simple human jealousy. In 2008, all of the candidates and most of their respective staffs and supporters had a seething hatred for Mitt Romney. Mitt seemed inauthentic, like he was buying his success and hadn’t earned his scars in the way that some of the more long-standing pols, men like McCain and Giuliani and Thompson, had. The jealousy reflected itself on the stage where he was often the recipient of the most pointed barbs. Buttigieg’s unlikely rise is having a similar effect.

The second reason was pinpointed by Jim Downs, author of Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation. Downs noted that Buttigieg fits a gay archetype that Andrew Tobias enshrined in his memoir, The Best Little Boy In the World.

In TBLBITW, Tobias writes about the trend of young closeted gay men—who are yes, mostly wealthy and white—overcompensating for their internalized homophobia and lack of comfort in the boys club by focusing on presenting external successes in areas where they can compete effectively: grades, behavior, resumés.

Attempting to deal with these internal demons by presenting perfection externally, these gay men often achieved success in work but failed in their personal lives unless they found a community where there were others in a similar boat. Which is an opportunity Mayor Pete missed since his coming out story happened when he was already in the public limelight. It should come as no surprise, then, that TBLBITW archetype is often kind of grating. There’s a reason that most of the time the high school valedictorian isn’t also the prom king. And for normies who haven’t checked all the success boxes of The Best Pete in The World, you can understand the motivation to take him down a peg, no matter what it takes.

Lastly, it seems that the bad elements of the identitarian left are once again eating their young.

As I’ve written, I am not the type of conservative who has a knee-jerk hostility towards the idea of identity politics. I fully endorse and embrace the life-affirming parts of identity politics which ensure that people are seen and recognized, promote diversity and inclusivity, and make sure that those who have been silenced in the past have a platform.

The problem is that too often identity politics moves from providing a platform to the marginalized to denying platforms to others or attacking them for not conforming to some predetermined mold.

And this last bit is what we see with Mayor Pete. Rather than celebrating the unique and historic—and frankly shocking—elements of his success and the myriad policy ways in which they are aligned, identity politics is warping some progressives’ views to the point that they can only see the ways his candidacy isn’t representing the groups they would like, exactly as they would like them.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.