Is Pete Buttigieg’s political future forever anchored after Southwest holiday travel disaster?
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The Christmas travel nightmare involving Southwest Airlines has left a wide wake of destruction with lasting implications. From frustrated travelers over the nearly 16,000 canceled flights to the reputation of the once-popular airline to the political future of Pete Buttigieg, it’s been a tough week for everyone involved.
Americans’ memories tend to be short, but this fiasco will leave behind some serious scar tissue. Passengers who missed family gatherings will always remember this episode, especially after the last two holiday seasons were cut short by the pandemic.
Southwest and its leaders will face tough questions about their outdated technology and misplaced priorities. At the top of that list is their obsession with going green and shoveling millions of dollars toward “carbon neutrality” to appease the woke crowd. It is not yet known how many emissions have been saved this week amid the mass grounding of flights.
For Transport Secretary Buttigieg, the headaches are just beginning. Critics question the credentials of a 40-year-old former mayor of a city of 100,000 to oversee an agency with nearly 60,000 employees.
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Already, he has become a pinata within his own party. For an ambitious and talented politician with his eye on higher office, that spells trouble. The wing of the party aligned with Bernie Sanders has been particularly vocal. Nina Turner, who co-chaired Sanders’ 2020 campaign, accused Buttigieg of “failing.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., another co-chair, accused Buttigieg of ignoring his warnings, tweeting, “this mess with Southwest could have been avoided.”
Some Republicans have racked up criticism of their own — largely focused on the $7 billion Southwest has received from taxpayers in COVID relief — but the sharpest criticism has come from Buttigieg’s left, which makes sense.
Having exceeded all expectations in 2020, Buttigieg is considered a rising star, a name to watch in the years to come. His move from dark red Indiana, where Democrats disappear, to neighboring blue Michigan has only fueled that speculation.
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Initially, Buttigieg’s cabinet post was seen as a stepping stone to higher office. Like Vice President Kamala Harris, he has become a political lead balloon.
The South West fiasco was not the first stain on his resume. It was the latest episode in a growing cycle of events. In 2021, the term “supply chain” has gone from being an esoteric term in a textbook to a real pain for frustrated consumers waiting for goods that were readily available. This year, it was revealed that Buttigieg was on holiday in Portugal while at home, heated rail contract negotiations veered into a strike.
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Meanwhile, the current Democratic Party flag bearer, an 80-year-old Joe Biden, faces ongoing questions about his ability to run another national campaign. A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll found that only 8% of respondents called 66 to 80 the ideal age for a president.
The Southwest fiasco wasn’t the first blemish on Buttigieg’s resume. It was the latest episode in a growing cycle of events.
Yes, Biden’s Democrats had a far more successful midterm election than expected, but his approval rating remains stuck closer to 40 than 50. If he runs again, Biden won’t have the blanket of COVID to keep him out of the spotlight.
Granted, Buttigieg remains a talented politician in a political party with an extremely shallow bench that desperately needs younger faces. It’s not out of the question that he could turn this whole episode into a net positive.
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But one thing is clear: he will have to take it head on. For nearly all Democrats (and sadly too many Republicans), the federal government is the immediate scapegoat for every problem under the sun — even in the private sector. Gone are the days of free markets and letting consumers punish Southwest by choosing other airlines.
For a Democratic Party soon to search for its next leader, Christmas 2022 could be a watershed moment for one of the potential suitors.
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