Pete Buttigieg is the hot political brand of the month. The media-friendly Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, officially launched his bid for the presidency on Sunday to a flurry of positive MSM coverage capped by a big wet kiss of a cover story from New York Magazine.
This was only the latest burst of Buttigieg mania that burnished the upstart’s image as a tick-lots-of-boxes blue centrist with Midwest roots, a stellar military service record and a solid same-sex marriage that might grace the cover of Good Housekeeping.
That kind of broad brand appeal could play all the way from Park Slope to Pacific Heights to Peoria. It follows on the heels of a favorable March 29 live appearance on HBO’s influential “Real Time with Bill Maher” and a gushing April 2 New York Times op-ed by David Brooks.
But Buttigieg is not bullet-proof. In the beginning of this month — as fast as you could say Howard Schultz — Buttigieg looked like the newest and most prominent member of the presidential-hopeful piñata club.
The right-wing press predictably pounced on his perceived weaknesses. His biggest issue was the political leanings of his late father who died in January. Joseph Buttigieg worked for almost 40 years as a professor at University of Notre Dame and was well known for his translations of the Italian Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci.
In other words, Professor Buttigieg had the right-wing press seeing red. The Washington Examiner was one of the earliest conservative publications out of the gate, with a piece on April 2 that traced Joe Buttigieg’s academic records. The headline said it all: “Pete Buttigieg’s father was a Marxist professor who lauded the Communist Manifesto.”
PJ Media weighed in with a short article that quoted extensively from the Examiner story. However, the clever headline demonstrated how much “fun” the conservative press is going to have with the Communist inferences: “Chip Off the Ol’ Eastern Bloc: Pete Buttigieg’s dad was a Marxist.”
Writing on Foxnews.com on April 3, Laura Ingraham warned her readers that we should beware of Buttigieg, whom she labeled “just another media creation.” Almost two weeks later, she followed up with another op-ed reminding readers that Buttigieg was most certainly not some kind of blue-tinged political messiah.
Fox’s influence cannot be understated. It draws more than 10 times the unique visitors as its next closest conservative competitor (see TheRighting’s monthly rankings of conservative websites based on Comscore data) and even generates larger online audiences than The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Rush Limbaugh also got into the dump-on-Buttigieg act. His April 2 radio broadcast featured a “How Mayor Pete hides his radicalism” segment. While the segment didn’t answer that provocative teaser, Limbaugh did take some predictable shots at Buttigieg, asserting that to the Mayor, “being free means the government taking care of you.”
Not to be outdone, the Washington Free Beacon recalled an incident from 2012 when Buttigieg was criticized for firing the first African-American to lead the South Bend police force. And Big League Politics went way back to the year 2000 to unearth an award-winning high school essay penned by Buttigieg praising Bernie Sanders for having the courage to describe himself as a socialist.
How the Buttigieg brand grows or withers in the coming months may be influenced less by positive mainstream media coverage and more by how he deals with his detractors on the right. Will Buttigieg fire back at his critics like a Pistol Pete, or will he tap-dance away from charges like a Sneaky Pete? Time will tell.