Former mayor Pete Buttigieg is probably best known for his bid to be the Democratic candidate for president. With a large and loyal following, the moderate democratic hero is an unlikely Fox News favorite. Yet, in recent weeks, Buttigieg has not only been appearing regularly on Fox, but his exchanges are gaining enough attention to make him an asset for the conservative network. It’s an odd marriage of ideals, so how did it come to be?
Buttigieg Goes Viral
Acting as a political surrogate for former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris as their team bids for president, Buttigieg has been making the rounds on news networks. Something about his appearances on Fox has struck a nerve, and “Mayor Pete” keeps going viral. There are several reasons for this.
Buttigieg Has Mastered the Art of the Sound Byte
One thing Buttigieg does well is create concise, powerful, short statements that aim at the heart of an issue and make it easy for the internet to share. On October 7th, before the only vice presidential debate of this election, Buttigieg took aim at Vice President Mike Pence.
Appearing on Fox News, Buttigieg slammed religious Pence’s collaboration with President Donald J Trump, saying, “There’s a classic parlor game of trying to find a little bit of daylight between running mates. 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.”
The clip immediately went viral, with one Twitter user tweeting, “Pete Buttigieg – Fox News might not let you back after you destroyed their set like that.”
Beyond Using Viral Keywords Like a Scalpel, Buttigieg is a Voice of Calm
But Buttigieg isn’t just good at hitting viral keywords. Fox News Trump surrogates are often boisterous and contentious. By contrast, Buttigieg’s calm, even, steady demeanor while delivering viral snipes, make him easy on the eyes of anxious viewers. As Trump’s presidency looks to be on rocky ground, Fox News has taken pains in recent months to distance themselves from Trump’s violent and inflammatory rhetoric, even taking the unprecedented-to-Fox step of criticizing him on air. Is Buttigieg now their surrogate for gaining distance from Trump?
CNN Business observes Buttigieg’s method when discussing Trump’s insistence that the now-canceled second presidential debate be handled in person despite the president’s diagnosis of COVID-19; “‘I don’t know why you would want to be in a room with other people if you were contagious with a deadly disease and you care about other people,’ Buttigieg said to ‘Fox & Friends’ host Steve Doocy last Thursday. ‘But maybe the President doesn’t care about other people.’
Even as Buttigieg called out a ‘weakness of [Trump’s] campaign,’ Doocy — a reliable Trump ally on the President’s favorite morning show — nodded along in agreement as the former South Bend mayor spoke.”
Buttigieg Wants His Side to Win
The former mayor has always been very press-friendly, believing that openness is it’s own PR. This seems to be playing out in real time as Buttigieg continues to rack up viral sound bytes alongside the unlikely collaborators of Fox News. Trump has recently taken exception with Fox News’ handling of his administration’s woes, accusing them of playing favorites against him for once. Trump tweeted, “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. They got dumped from the Democrats boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people…..”
Trump continued in a second tweet, “….who got them there. Chris Wallace said, ‘I actually think, whether you like his opinions or not, that Mayor Pete has a lot of substance…fascinating biography.’ Gee, he never speaks well of me – I like Mike Wallace better…and Alfred E. Newman will never be President!”
For “Mayor Pete’s” part, a spokesperson for Buttigient told CNN, “His threshold for doing a media hit at this point is, if it would be helpful to the Biden-Harris campaign, or for Democrats up and down the ballot, he’s eager to do it.”
So Why Has Fox Embraced Buttigieg?
There could be several reasons for this. The first, most obvious reason, is that Buttigieg is getting clicks. His mastering the art of the sound byte has given Fox News, often eschewed by the younger set, traffic in new online arenas.
Another possible reason stems back to the fact that they’ve been, at least to a minor degree, distancing themselves from the Trump administration’s legacy in recent months. Whether or not Fox will support Trump if he gets reelected is anyone’s guess, but pundits have been allowed more on-screen latitude to criticize the president in recent months. Embracing Buttigieg could broaden their appeal to other audiences, as the traditionally-conservative network adjusts to the changing political tide of 2020.
Buttigieg and Fox certainly present a strange collaborative relationship, but it seems to be working.