Pete Buttigieg is savage.
At least that’s how one TikTok user described his recent interview on Fox News, during which he was asked about President Donald Trump’s refusal to participate in a virtual debate. The event has since been canceled, but it was originally moved to a virtual format after Trump tested positive for 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.
Fox News declined to comment for this story.
Buttigieg’s tone was measured, his message was coherent and the policies he espoused were centrist — qualities that were previously panned by younger, more liberal voters. TikTok users referred to Buttigieg as “Mayo Pete” because he was “bland and overwhelmingly white” like the condiment, according to MEL magazine. But his recent words on Fox News were cutting — or “savage” — earning him praise on Twitter and TikTok this time around.
On TikTok, the interview clip was overlaid with the song, “Pretty Savage,” by K-pop group BLACKPINK.
Cutting through the fog
Buttigieg has been making media appearances as a surrogate for the Biden-Harris campaign — showing up on national TV networks and on Instagram Live. But Buttigieg’s hits on Fox News have been gaining attention for his ability to cut through the fog of Trump boosters on the network.
“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,” Buttigieg spokesperson Sean Savett told CNN Business in the wake of his recent viral fame.
Buttigieg is effective because he answers questions in a straightforward manner, leading with facts and not opinions or hypotheticals. He speaks calmly, and he rarely raises his voice. But his internet appeal stems from his delivery: perfect sound bites that are easily edited, memeable and which embody the dry sarcasm that the internet loves. All of this makes for good fodder for people on Twitter and TikTok.
The post-debate Fox News appearance made its way around the internet, with celebrities and media observers taking notice and sharing the clip. Actor George Takei asked, “Sure, sex is great. But have you seen Pete Buttigieg shut down the Fox News panels?” Tech journalist Kara Swisher tweeted, “I gotta say @PeteButtigieg conducts a master class of how to appear on Fox News and stick the landing.”
TJ Ducklo, national press secretary for the Biden-Harris campaign, called Buttigieg an “extremely effective messenger.”
“We believe there are a number of Fox News viewers who are fed up with Donald Trump’s incompetence and his failed leadership to get this virus under control, and Mayor Pete has been an extremely effective messenger at laying out Vice President Biden’s vision for those folks in a way that’s not necessarily confrontational — given the often hostile environment on Fox — but that is rational and well-reasoned, and that we believe can appeal to a number of undecided voters across the country,” Ducklo told CNN Business.
One of Buttigieg’s other recent viral moments happened on October 7 — shortly before the vice presidential debate — when he said Vice President Mike Pence’s beliefs are at odds with President Trump’s actions.
“There’s a classic parlor game of trying to find a little bit of daylight between running mates,” Buttigieg said. “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.”
A TikTok user shared that clip with accompanying text, “Umm, I’d like to report MURDER.” A Twitter user wrote, “Pete Buttigieg – Fox News might not let you back after you destroyed their set like that.”
With the help of Buttigieg’s TV hits, the Biden-Harris campaign has been able to attract the kind of attention online that Trump has long dominated. In fact, in a Fox News interview on September 29 ahead of the first presidential debate, Buttigieg acknowledged Trump’s ability to dominate Twitter conversations.
“What we’re going to see tonight is two very different people with two very different ideas for what matters. We’re going to see President Trump turn on the distraction machine like he always does, think up something crazy to get the Twittersphere going, and Vice President Biden is going to be talking about us — not us political figures — us the American people,” Buttigieg said.
As campaign surrogate, he is focused on talking to viewers on Fox and elsewhere about why Biden is more qualified to serve as president, including to those who Buttigieg calls “future former Republicans,” Savett told CNN Business. He has been a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC and CNBC as a Biden-Harris campaign surrogate. He recently appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Savett said Buttigieg believes it is important to “go on the shows that may not otherwise hear a Democratic perspective.”
“Something that Pete says a lot that always resonates with me is that we can’t blame voters or be mad at voters for not supporting our candidate if they don’t hear our message,” Savett added. “He knows we can’t win the general election just by preaching to the choir.”
No stranger to Fox News
While clips of his recent appearances have caught people’s attention, Buttigieg is no stranger to Fox News. When he was running as a Democratic presidential candidate, Buttigieg’s campaign pursued a press friendly strategy.
Lis Smith, the former top communications adviser for Buttigieg’s campaign, told CNN’s Brian Stelter in March 2019, “It was important for us to be open, accessible and transparent with the media and to get him everywhere.”
Last Thursday, Smith retweeted one of Buttigieg’s recent Fox News appearances, teasing some political strategists who question whether Democrats should appear on the network.
Buttigieg isn’t the only Democrat or Biden surrogate to appear on Fox News. However, at least one candidate on the trail has spoken out against it: Sen. Elizabeth Warren made headlines during her campaign when she rejected an invitation from Fox News to participate in a town hall with the network, slamming the outlet as a “hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists.”
“We need to be talking to everyone,” Smith told Stelter last year, when Buttigieg was still on the campaign trail. “Even if we don’t agree with folks on everything I think it’s important to go out, get your message out there, but also treat people with differing opinions with respect.”
During his run for president, Buttigieg also sat for interviews with Barstool Sports, TMZ and Charlamagne tha God. He continues to participate in interviews on Instagram Live and Snapchat, two platforms he appeared on during his campaign.
Smith did not respond to a request for comment.
As a candidate, Buttigieg was a repeat guest on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace. He also participated in a town hall with Fox News in May 2019 and again in January. The internet resurfaced some moments from those town halls, gaining new attention because of Buttigieg’s recent TV hits.
Trump, for one, has expressed dismay on at least one occasion about Buttigieg appearing on his home turf, chiding Fox for “wasting airtime” on those town halls.