South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is rising in the polls and therefore, is starting to face criticism from fellow Democratic presidential contenders who see him as a threat. While most would say this is only natural, MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski expressed deep concern on Tuesday that Buttigieg is now receiving criticism.
After highlighting a New Hampshire poll that showed Buttigieg in third place at 15% and within striking distance of Joe Biden's second place position at 18%, the morning show then moved into a controversy that has arisen between Buttigieg and the Bernie Sanders campaign. Fellow co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist thought the outrage from the Sanders campaign following Buttigieg comparing Sanders' appeal to Trump's was unfounded as both have prided themselves on being anti-establishment outsiders. The spat then transitioned to an article by NBC reporter Josh Lederman that detailed how Buttigieg's rivals are scrambling to conduct opposition research on him.
While Geist was explaining that Buttigieg and Sanders are quite close politically, Brzezinski interjected, "Who's doing this?" Geist continued to say that while he thought that the Sanders campaign's complaints were unfounded, "It's not to say Mayor Pete is above dirt in a presidential campaign or above criticism, but it does point to the fact, he's caught the attention of this field, having come out of nowhere." Lederman agreed and argued that Buttigieg's previous status as an unknown is behind the dirt digging.
Still, Brzezinski was not thrilled that Buttigieg was coming under even the slightest criticism, asking Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt if trying to "sully up Mayor Pete" was counterproductive and adding that "It's not going to work."
Hunt instead argued that such criticism was to be expected: "This is what happens when you join the big leagues." She then asked Lederman what areas of vulnerability Buttigieg might have among Democrats. Lederman cited his decision as mayor to demolish abandoned houses and the controversy behind the demotion of the city's black police chief as well as his association with consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But, Brzezinski was still unconvinced, telling Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, "I'm skeptical just because I feel like these efforts are going to look really forced."
Robinson, following the pattern of the other panelists, said that criticism of Buttigieg from fellow Democrats is only natural as he rises in the polls. "He is Mayor Pete, he's not Saint Pete" he told Brzezinski, adding that opposition research is just another form of vetting and that receiving criticism will be a good test for because, if he were to get the nomination, surely "Republicans would go after him in this way."
Brzezinski concluded by saying that attacks on Buttigieg will fail in the same way attempts to "make Joe Biden look like a pervert" failed.
Here is a transcript for the April 23 show:
6:32 AM ET
WILLIE GEIST: It's not exactly a novel point either. People have been saying it since the last campaign…
JOE SCARBOROUGH: No
GEIST: since 2016 that their appeal, although their policy ideas are different, their appeal is the same and that they're kind of outsiders and Josh, it's funny because Pete Buttigieg when he was in high school won an essay contest praising Bernie Sanders. So, they know better than what they're doing right now.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Who’s doing this?
GEIST: It's not to say Mayor Pete is not above dirt in a presidential campaign or above criticism, but it does point to the fact he's caught the attention of this field, having coming out of nowhere.
JOSH LEDERMAN: That's right. With all the nationally known Democrats, who it was really obvious were going to run for years, everybody had their opposition research basically in the can ready to go. Everybody knew what they were going to throw at Elizabeth Warren, everyone knew what they were going to throw at Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, but nobody really had reason to be doing a lot of deep digging on the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Well, now they do, we just talked about these polls. Now he's clearly a threat for those seeking the nomination and the presidency.
BRZEZINSKI: But, it seems Kasie, doesn't it seem counterproductive to try and sully up Mayor Pete? Haven't we seen this not work before? It's not going to work.
KASIE HUNT: You may be right but I don't see a way around it for Mayor Pete this is how it works. This is what happens when you join the big leagues. It's a sign, to your point that, he really has landed himself in the top tier. It's kind of funny that everybody is unprepared for him. There was a little bit of that with Barack Obama, too…
HUNT: … although he obviously had given that speech at the DNC that got the attention. My question for you is what are they going after? Where are the weak spots?
LEDERMAN: They've found what they think a few vulnerable areas. Some involve his record as mayor, some controversial decisions he took as far as demolishing abandoned houses in South Bend and also demoting the city's black police chief. They also think he's ripe for some guilt by association attacks over his work at McKinsey, obviously a firm that’s very unpopular among the Democratic base because of some of its corporate practices. Beyond that they're still looking through everything he's ever said, written at Harvard, as a Rhodes Scholar.
LEDERMAN: What he did in the military. What else is there out there?
BRZEZINSKI: Gene, I'm skeptical just because I feel like these efforts are going to look really forced and too late like the Democrats being behind the 8 ball again.
EUGUENE ROBINSON: Well, you know, he is, look, he is the story of the campaign so far, right? We kind of expected Bernie Sanders to do well because of how well he did the last time. People didn’t expect Mayor Pete to come out of nowhere. He is Mayor Pete, he's not St. Pete. So, you, go and this sort of vetting, you known oppo research is in another sense vetting. If he were to get the nomination, surely Republicans would go after him in this way.
I assume he's ready for this. I hope he's ready for this and we'll see what they come up with. So far they haven't really laid a glove them. If all they have is he tore done some abandoned houses and demoted a police chief, I don't think that's going to stop his momentum or slow it, but we'll see how he handles the criticism and how he handles the oppo.
BRZEZINSKI: A little prediction here, it will fall as flat as trying to make Joe Biden look like a pervert. Just doesn’t work.