Buttigieg Wowed on Fox Town Hall, But Jefferson/Jackson Flap Looms Large

May 21, 2019 Updated: May 21, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg “gave a master class in entering unfriendly territory” during the Fox News Town Hall on May 19, according to a Democratic strategist, but storm clouds may be gathering on another front for the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

“Mayor Pete gave a master class in entering unfriendly territory and emerged impressing even his critics,” Max Burns told The Epoch Times on May 20.

Burns is a strategic communications specialist for the Glover Park Group, a Washington-based Democratic communications firm, as well as for Facebook and Change.org.

Burns pointed to “Buttigieg’s real-time fact-checking of Chris Wallace’s abortion statistics” as “exactly the way Democrats will have to fact-check [President] Donald Trump if they hope to stand a chance against him in 2020.”

Burns was referring to Chris Wallace claiming approximately 6,000 late-term abortions are performed annually in the United States. Buttigieg quickly countered that the figure represented 1 percent of all abortions in a year.

Meeting Voters Where They Are

Other campaign strategists offered more measured praise for Buttigieg in interviews May 20 with The Epoch Times.

Strategist Christian Hanley, who hosts the “Keep it in Perspective” podcast, said, “Mayor Pete absolutely helped himself by stepping outside what was perhaps his comfort zone to reach an audience that otherwise would not have seen him.”

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (C) greets guests at a luncheon hosted by the City Club of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois on May 16, 2019. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Santa Cruz, California, County Supervisor and former Obama for America spokesman Zach Friend said “showing up and speaking to voters, meeting them where they are, is half the battle. Mayor Buttigieg showed why all Democrats should be on Fox.

“These are the same viewers that very well might provide the difference throughout key swing states in the industrial Midwest, states flipped in 2016 but are key to victory in 2020.”

And strategist Kevin Chavous said Buttigieg definitely “helped himself. We have to remember that Fox News is not watched exclusively by Republicans; many Democrats and Independents watch, as well, and his Town Hall started off with a bang.”

Chavous said the Fox audience “was impressed with his answer to the first question he received, which dealt with his youth and relative inexperience.” If elected in 2020, Buttigieg would be the youngest president ever at 39. South Bend’s population is just over 100,000.

Buttigieg drew praise from GOP media consultant Beverly Hallberg, who said Buttigieg is “well-spoken and, even in his attacks on Fox News hosts, does so without name-calling and with a calm demeanor.”

That sits well with “many who’ve grown weary of the hostile rhetoric of today’s politics,” she said.


Despite the upbeat reviews, however, Buttigieg faces multiple serious obstacles, most notably his lack of standing with African-American voters.

Chavous said Buttigieg’s effort recalls former Sen. Bill Bradley’s campaign as a liberal insurgent opposing Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 Democratic presidential campaign.

The problem for Buttigieg, Chavous said, is that “the Democratic party has changed dramatically since 2000. To seriously contend for the nomination, Buttigieg will need to expand his base of support to include women of all backgrounds and African-Americans. His polling is not very good among African-Americans right now.”

Hanley agreed, saying, “Right now, Mayor Pete’s biggest obstacle is that he is not gaining traction among African-American Democratic primary voters … Mayor Pete needs to play catch up immediately.”

The latest Fox News poll shows how much catching up is needed by Buttigieg, who finished fourth with just 6 percent of Democratic primary voters.

Former Vice President Joe Biden dominates with 35 percent, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at 17 percent, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 9 percent.

Buttigieg is tied with President Donald Trump in a head-to-head match survey by RealClearPolitics, leads Trump in a similar poll taken by CNN, and trails the incumbent in a third one, by Rasmussen Reports.

Jefferson/Jackson Dinners

Looming behind the Town Hall positives, however, is a remark Buttigieg made on May 17 to endorse renaming the traditional “Jefferson/Jackson” dinners held annually by state and local Democratic party organizations for decades.

Official presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson. (Public Domain/Rembrandt Peale via Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, was a longtime slave owner. Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, also owned slaves and signed the Indian Removal Act that forcibly relocated Native Americans from the South.

Asked by talk radio host Hugh Hewitt if he favored renaming the dinners, Buttigieg replied, “Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do. Over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor.”

Buttigieg hastened to add, “there’s a lot, of course, to admire in [Jefferson’s] thinking and his philosophy. Then again, if you plunge into his writings, especially the ‘Notes on the State of Virginia,’ you know that he knew slavery was wrong—and yet he did it.”

Buttigieg also insisted that he wasn’t advocating “blotting [Jefferson] out of the history books.”

Even so, Buttigieg’s remark aligned him with numerous instances in recent years, in which historical statutes have been destroyed and famous buildings renamed because of pressure from left-wing activists.

Conservative critics such as Heritage Action Executive Director Tim Chapman see big trouble ahead for the Hoosier mayor in a whirlwind of bottomless identity politics that will alienate traditional conservative and independent voters.

“The hard-core progressives in the Democratic Party will force the party into untenable positions on historical figures, in order to meet the latest standards of political correctness,” Chapman told The Epoch Times on May 20.

“The problem for them is those standards are ever-evolving, so there really is no end game for them other than some general notion of equality. It will be like a steam roller that takes out controversial portions of American history, but flattens all that was great about it as well,” he said.

Even more emphatic was Virginia-based American Target Advertising’s Mark Fitzgibbons, who said it is “arrogant and dangerous of leftists like Buttigieg to seek to whitewash the name of the author of the greatest words of American governance, which are also a beacon of light for freedom and human dignity all around the world.”

It won’t hurt Buttigieg in the primary, Fitzgibbons said, but “his chances of ever being president will be forever marred.”