Jon Ossoff. Beto O'Rourke. Pete Buttigieg. In each of the past few election cycles, Democrats have grown enamored with a white male candidate who promises to be "the future of the Democratic Party." Their infatuation fuels the candidate's rise to national celebrity status, but the end result is almost always disappointing.
Democrats appear to have already settled on a political crush for the 2022 election cycle: John Fetterman, lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. He's a white man, obviously, and he's running for Senate in the open election to replace Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who is retiring at the end of his term.
Prior to being elected lieutenant governor in 2018, Fetterman served multiple terms as mayor of Braddock, a Pittsburgh suburb with fewer than 2,000 residents. His first attempt at running for Senate in 2016 ended in failure after garnering just 20 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Fetterman, 51, doesn't look anything like the other white dudes Democrats have fallen for in the past. He's 6-foot-8, bald, and covered in tattoos. Despite his "privileged" middle-class upbringing and his master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he looks and dresses like a nightclub bouncer, or the guy a union boss might send around to "solve problems." That is no doubt part of the appeal.
"Big John Fetterman Can Save the Democratic Party—if the Democrats Let Him," reads the headline of a Rolling Stone profile published days after the 2020 election. His campaign announcement video was praised for being "packed with Rust Belt grit." Fetterman is fond of saying he doesn't "look like a typical politician" or even a "typical person."
A 2018 profile in the Washington Post described Fetterman as "a walking folk hero, half Pete Seeger, half Metallica. The kind of anti-politician a Democratic wizard might conjure to grab the dispossessed Americans who tipped the 2016 election to President Trump."
He's also really good at Twitter. Teen Vogue lauded him as a "voice of reason" whose "pragmatic, frequently hilarious cable news appearances" and talent for "baiting boneheaded politicians online" have helped him become an internet celebrity. Fetterman's high profile and edgy tweets helped him raise more than $1.4 million in the weeks before announcing his Senate candidacy on Monday.
It goes without saying that journalists are among Fetterman's biggest fans, having bonded over their mutual obsession with Twitter. Earlier this week, Fetterman engaged in some casual online flirtation with MSNBC's Kasie Hunt and CNN's Jake Tapper on the subject of gas stations: Sheetz vs. Wawa. Fetterman appeared on Hunt's show the next day to continue the scintillating debate.
Fetterman's exalted status among Democrats and journalists, however, could be short-lived. It will certainly be put to the test in light of a problematic New York Times report published Tuesday. The story details a 2013 incident during which then-mayor Fetterman detained an unarmed black man by pointing a shotgun at him:
In 2013, when he was mayor, Mr. Fetterman used his shotgun to stop an unarmed black jogger and detain him, telling the police that he had heard shots fired near his home and spotted the man running, according to the police report. "Fetterman continued to yell and state that he knows this male was shooting," the police report says.
An officer who patted down the man, Christopher Miyares, then 28, found no weapons. The officer noted that Mr. Miyares was wearing running clothes and headphones. Mr. Miyares was released....
According to accounts Mr. Fetterman gave in 2013 to local media, he chased the man in his pickup truck and used a 20-gauge shotgun he kept in the truck to hold him until the police appeared.
That doesn't sound very nice. It's the sort of racially charged scandal that, one assumes, would end someone's chances of ever winning a Democratic nomination for federal office. It's the sort of scandal that, if it involved a Republican, would generate weeks' worth of hysterical coverage on CNN and MSNBC and would be cited as further evidence of the GOP's white supremacy problem.
Fortunately for Fetterman, the Democratic Party and the media have shown themselves to be exceedingly flexible when it comes to holding Democratic politicians to account. Just ask Gov. Ralph Northam (D., Va.), who is still in office after admitting to wearing blackface on several occasions. Or you could ask Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D., Va.), who is still in office despite being credibly accused of sexual assault by multiple women.
Fetterman's response to the Times story, a slickly produced video titled, "Gun Violence," pulls out all the stops in an effort to encourage this sort of flexibility. Fetterman cited "Black Lives Matter" and invoked the fatal shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and the fact that he lives near an elementary school as justifications for his actions.
"I realized that I could never forgive myself if I didn't do anything," Fetterman said of his decision to chase down an unarmed black jogger and point a shotgun at him. "As mayor, I always believed it was my duty to protect and safeguard my community."