So much for populism, eh? In a cycle where his party’s candidates for president openly debate on the preferred method for eating the rich, Bloomberg reports this morning that Mayor Pete Buttigieg got lots of direction from them to start his campaign. And not just any ol’ rich guy, but arguably the poster child for American oligarchs — at least to the Democrats in the 2020 sweepstakes:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recommended colleagues as potential hires for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign soon after the South Bend, Ind. mayor launched his presidential bid in mid-April.
Buttigieg campaign spokesman Chris Meagher confirmed to Bloomberg News that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, had initiated the contact by sending several emails recommending individuals as potential campaign hires. A Zuckerberg-Chan family spokesman said that the employees had asked to be recommended.
Zuckerberg overlapped with Buttigieg at Harvard, where the two shared mutual friends, and Buttigieg was one of the first 300 users of Facebook. Zuckerberg visited Buttigieg in 2017 and live-streamed a tour of South Bend given by the mayor.
At least two Zuckerberg insiders still work with the campaign as a result of this consultation, Bloomberg notes:
Of the several individuals recommended, two are currently on staff: Eric Mayefsky, senior digital analytics adviser, and Nina Wornhoff, organizing data manager. Mayefsky previously worked at Quora, a startup founded by former Facebook employees, while Wornhoff worked as a machine learning engineer at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and in Democratic politics in Indiana, Buttigieg’s home state.
Bloomberg News mostly focused on the novelty of Zuckerberg’s direct involvement in electoral politics. His friendship at Harvard with Buttigieg no doubt played a large part in that decision, but even so, Zuckerberg insisted that he’s still neutral in the Democratic primaries. After last week’s Democratic debate, however, Zuckerberg at least had some thoughts on the matter.
First, let’s recall what happened in the debate, when Bernie Sanders declared that “billionaires should not exist.” Even the billionaire on stage threw in with Sanders on that sentiment, but Buttigieg hedged a bit when it came to the subject:
BUTTIGIEG: I’m all for a wealth tax. I’m all for just about everything that was just mentioned in these answers. Let me tell, though, how this looks from the industrial Midwest where I live.
Washington politicians, congressmen and senators, saying all the right things, offering the most elegant policy prescriptions, and nothing changes. I didn’t even realize it was unusual to have empty factories that I would see out the windows of my dad’s Chevy Cavalier when he drove me to school, I didn’t know that wasn’t every city until I went away to college. Now I drive my own Chevy. It’s a Chevy Cruze. It used to be built right in Lordstown, which is now one more symbol of the broken promises that this president has made to workers.
But why did workers take a chance on this president in the first place? It’s because it felt like nobody was willing to actually do anything. And while he’s unquestionably made it dramatically worse, this is time to realize that we’re paying attention to the wrong things.
Well okay, perhaps Zuckerberg is arguably the second-most unpopular billionaire in the world right now. Still, the Facebook mogul has been popular among Buttigieg’s competitors for the nomination only as a favorite punching bag, especially when it comes to electoral influence. A number of them, Elizabeth Warren most prominently, have called for breaking up Facebook specifically along with other infotech near-monopolies in large part because of their influence on electoral politics and free speech. In this past debate, several candidates — Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke all explicitly joined that call.
Needless to say, the news that Buttigieg got direction from Zuckerberg on his campaign hires gives all of these candidates a yuuuuuge stick with which to beat Buttigieg. They can use him as the poster child for how the oligarchs of Silicon Valley have gone from influence to direct political control of campaigns. It comes at a very bad time for Buttigieg as well, seeing as how he’s starting to challenge the top tier of candidates, especially in Iowa, where he has surged to third place in a new Suffolk poll released today. How long will he maintain that position after Warren, Joe Biden, and others paint him as Zuckerberg’s stalking horse in a populist-driven electorate?
The timing is curious indeed, actually. Did someone’e campaign sit on this until now, deploying it only when it appeared Buttigieg’s surge might be legit? Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
Buttigieg has gotten a lot of mileage out of his “Mayor Pete” persona — an outsider, a fresh face, an unspoiled public servant with a backstory that fits the times more than Biden’s or Sanders’, or even Warren’s. If those competitors can repackage Buttigieg as Zuckerberg’s latest product line, though, that might be enough to send Mayor Pete back to deal with the woes in South Bend.