Pete Buttigieg’s Cynical Campaign Dance

Pete Buttigieg’s critics can fault the South Bend mayor for a number of detractions. He’s taken money from a myriad of super-rich donors, done a complete 180 on Medicare For All and, according to The Intercept, used misleading tactics to overstate support for his campaign’s policy pitch to black voters.

But the “High Hopes” dance might be the Buttigieg campaign’s worst offense of all.

In fairness, calling this a “dance” is generous. It looks more like routine a counselor might teach ritalin-rattled day camp charges the day before a talent show they only remembered existed at the last minute. Set to Panic! at the Disco’s hit 2018 song “High Hopes,” it first made rounds on Twitter in early November when Buttigieg campaign volunteer Connor McQuivey tweeted a video of himself teaching the routine to a crowd of unenthused-looking supporters. Within days, it became a meme based on sheer bleakness alone. The dance is that special kind of internet stupid which requires almost no effort to mock—merely sharing the video is enough to spread secondhand embarrassment and categorical despair. Anything extra is just gravy.

The dance is, at best, the campaign’s attempt to create some kind of energetic viral marketing. And that’s happening, even if it’s in the form of Twitter users clowning it. Buttigieg supporters have pushed back against the mockery, saying those who poke fun at the dance are ridiculing people for being sincerely excited about their candidate. It’s a valid criticism, at least on its face—people should be able to dance and cheer and shout for whatever candidate they love most. But hearing it from supporters of the leeriest candidate in the Democratic primary is rich.

That’s because Buttigieg’s campaign is completely cynical. He entered the Democratic primary by offering himself as the youthful, fresh-faced alternative to the older candidates initially dominating the polls. He forcibly yanked away Beto O’Rourke’s claim as the affable young moderate doing his very best Barack Obama impression. And as Joe Biden has lost steam, Buttigeig has become the clear Democratic Party establishment hedge candidate against left-leaning candidates Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders. His campaign is the physical embodiment of trying to return to the status quo.

It’s impossible not to be skeptical about every move Buttigieg makes. Even his brief military stint reads more like resume-building than sincere service. He mishandled racial tension in his own city while preparing for the second Democratic debate. His polling numbers among African Americans are dismal, especially in South Carolina, despite a busy schedule designed to change that. And months after tweeting his tacit support for Medicare for All, Buttigieg has been quoted criticizing socialized healthcare and saying it would be “wrong” to kick Americans off their private insurance plans.

Maybe the folks clapping and waving their arms for Mayor Pete are genuinely excited about his campaign. Perhaps they believe his milquetoast personality and ever-shifting neoliberal interests are exactly what America needs to heal from four years of Donald Trump. But it’s more likely they’re caught in the wash, dancing their way through a painful number in an attempt to gin up organic enthusiasm for a campaign that has almost none. When you’re dealing with an overly ambitious, goalpost-moving cynic, even dumb dance routines probably aren’t innocent.