Benjamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker:
Television suits Peter Buttigieg. He is a dispassionate figure in an emotional medium. In response to ridiculousness, his face stays largely still, but his peaked eyebrows rise a notch. As a politician, Buttigieg’s great trick (it’s also a flaw) is to never take anything personally: he blinks away the noisy, slanderous business of daily politics in pursuit of what political consultants might call the point of essential contrast.
Lately, Buttigieg has been not taking things personally on Fox News. Liberals, even those who had grown tired of his dogged reasonableness, have celebrated each of his three recent appearances on the network as a tour de force and a rout. Just before the Vice-Presidential debate, last Wednesday, Buttigieg was asked on Fox News about the policy differences between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He replied, “Well, there’s a classic parlor game of trying to find a little bit of daylight between running mates, and if people want to play that game we could look into why an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence wants to be on a ticket with a President caught with a porn star.” Pence, President, porn—he captured the basic deal Republicans had made with power in three tight plosives. (Slayer Pete, Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times named this persona, brilliantly.)
It’s tempting to conclude that Buttigieg’s recent star turns on Fox News say less about him than they do about the network, whose hosts spend so much time ridiculing liberal positions that they can find themselves at a loss when those positions are presented in earnest. Last week, the “Fox and Friends” host Steve Doocy asked Buttigieg about President Trump’s choice not to participate in a virtual debate with Biden. “All of us have had to get used to virtual formats,” Buttigieg said, pointing out that parents trying to manage home learning had it much rougher than the President of the United States. He went on, “The only reason that we’re here in the first place is that the President of the United States is still contagious, as far as we know, with a deadly disease.” That clip, like his response to the question about Harris, went viral, partly because Doocy kept encouraging Buttigieg, as he usually does ideologically friendlier guests, with a series of confident-sounding local-news-anchor noises: “Sure . . . Right . . . Yeah . . . Sure . . . Right . . . Right . . . Sure.”
Fox News has always been a good venue for Buttigieg, for reasons that don’t have much to do with the dimness of its morning hosts. Last spring, a Fox audience stood at the end of a town hall with Buttigieg. “Wow! A standing ovation!” the Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said, apparently surprised by it. The network’s orientation, on both the hyperbolic evening shows and the Doocified morning ones, borrows the spirit, if not the prudity, of religious conservatives: the heartland is virtuous, and the liberal city sinful. Beamed in from Indiana, Buttigieg has a way of inverting all of that.