If you want proof of just how successful Pete Buttigieg has been as Secretary of Transportation, you only have to look at how happy his critics are to have the recent failures in the airline system to use against him. According to a report in Politico, Buttigieg’s detractors are gleefully seizing on the problems in the airline sector to tarnish what the site calls the secretary’s “charmed tenure.”
When an IT problem temporarily shut down air travel nationwide last week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tweeted, “Pete Buttigieg couldn’t organize a one-car funeral. He was never remotely qualified for this role.”
But it’s not just the GOP gunning for Buttigieg. Progressive Democrats have never warmed up to Buttigieg, viewing his 2020 presidential run as a Boomer’s idea of youthful idealism. They are concerned that Buttigieg is going soft on the airlines, particularly Southwest, for their poor performance.
In many ways, Buttigieg is a victim of his success. In two years, Buttigieg has been able to take what is usually an obscure Cabinet post and turn it into a major–and highly visible–platform for the administration’s policies and, not so coincidentally himself.
He was the spokesperson for President Biden’s popular infrastructure initiative, and he frequently appeared on television not just to tout the infrastructure bill but any of the administration’s accomplishments. Notably, Buttigieg has been one of the few, if not the only prominent Democrat, willing to venture onto Fox News to dismantle its distortions, often leaving Fox’s personalities in the dust.
In the process, Buttigieg has made himself incredibly popular among many of his fellow Democrats. During the midterms, he was in high demand by candidates hoping for him to campaign for them.
Buttigieg’s popularity makes him a natural target. But compounding that is his thinly disguised ambition for higher office. Republicans and progressive Democrats would like to derail the Buttigieg White House Express before it ever leaves the station. (It’s not just progressive Democrats. Vice President Harris’s staff are wary of Buttigieg as a potential competitor as well.)
Thus, the recent spell of attacks. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a leading House progressive, complained that Buttigieg has been “too slow” to respond to the issues raised by Southwest’s multi-day meltdown.
“If the fines didn’t have a deterrence effect, and the fines can’t stop something like what happened to Southwest, then why are you imposing higher fines after the Southwest debacle?” he said. (Khanna has his own ambitions for higher office, which may include the White House.)
Within the Democratic establishment, though, Buttigieg remains golden. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said that Buttigieg has done “an incredible job…getting America moving again” after the disruptions of the pandemic. Biden’s pollster, John Anzalone, told Politico that Buttigieg is a “fucking hero” to airline passengers.
Things were bound to go wrong during Buttigieg’s tenure. The real issue is how he handles them. The resolution of the IT failure and the Southwest debacle will be a test of his problem-solving skills.
In the meantime, there’s an election coming up for the Senate in Michigan next year. That’s the state where Buttigieg and his husband Chasten have established their residency. The past few weeks may just be a preview of what a campaign against Buttigieg would look like.