Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was widely mocked for his response Sunday to the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
At a Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, moderator Chris Wallace asked Buttigieg about the tragic news that Bryant had died hours earlier in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles. Also killed were Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and the seven other people on board.
“One of the things we ask our leaders to do is to make sense out of the senseless event,” Wallace said. “Your thoughts about the death of Kobe Bryant?”
“Well, it’s shocking, and I think we’re all still in shock about what happened,”said Buttigieg, 38, a former South Bend, Indiana mayor. “I think it’s a reminder that our lives are often touched by people we never even meet, and there are millions of people, not just in Los Angeles, but around the world right now, mourning because they were inspired by what he did on the field, what he meant off the field.”
Buttigieg continued: “It’s also, of course, such a tough human moment to think about, that he was spending time with his daughter. Her loss is unthinkable, as is that of everybody who was on that helicopter. And I think that all of America is united in mourning and sending our love and our thoughts, and of course, our prayers, to all of the families.”
Twitter mocks Mayor Pete
Commentators on both the political right and left ridiculed Buttigieg for calling the basketball court a “field.”
Conservative social media consultant Caleb Hull was among the first Twitter users to highlight the moment.
Pete Buttigieg opens his town hall by referring to basketball being played on a "field." pic.twitter.com/1PNFfzYH16
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) January 27, 2020
Right-wing pundit Mark Dice admitted he is not a “big sports guy,” but said even he knew the proper term for a basketball playing surface.
I'm not a big sports guy, but unlike Pete Buttigieg, I do know that Kobe Bryant was in the NBA and that basketball is played on a court, not a "field." pic.twitter.com/51FLgFk103
— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) January 27, 2020
On the left, where Buttigieg is widely reviled, the commentary was more scathing.
“OH COME ON,” tweeted Kyle Kulinski, a cofounder of the Justice Democrats.
OH COME ON pic.twitter.com/Atpex8vyUK
— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) January 27, 2020
Emma Vigeland, a correspondent for the Young Turks media network, suggested the gaffe underlined a common criticism that Buttigieg is inauthentic or robotic. She also linked his apparent lack of familiarity with sports to his struggles to win over black voters in the Democratic primary.
I get that Buttigieg is a robot and maybe I’m reading way too much into this, but Kobe was an icon for all of us, and especially one for black Americans… the community he has largely disregarded.
The fact that he thinks he played on a “field” should trigger some introspection. https://t.co/hBaJKkHfr9
— Emma Vigeland (@EmmaVigeland) January 27, 2020
Other left-wing Twitter users wondered how Buttigieg had gotten anywhere in basketball-crazed Indiana without being more familiar with the sport.
Pete Buttigieg tries to recover from his Kobe Bryant gaffe
Buttigieg went on to discuss a number of other hot-button topics during the Des Moines town hall, which came a week before 2020 voting kicks off in the state.
At one point, Buttigieg added his voice to Democratic demands that John Bolton testify in Trump’s impeachment trial after reports that the former national security adviser directly linked the president’s hold on Ukraine aid to his push for investigations of Joe and Hunter Biden.
Days after Trump became the first president to speak at the March for Life anti-abortion rally, Buttigieg also got into a tense exchange with Kristen Day, the president of the organization Democrats for Life.
“I’m a proud pro-life Democrat. So, do you want the support of pro-life Democrats?” Day asked. “And if so, would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure the party of diversity and inclusion really does include everybody?”
Buttigieg said “I’m not going to try to earn your vote by tricking you. I am pro-choice, and I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision. But I know that the difference of opinion that you and I have is one that we have come by honestly. And the best that I can offer, and it may win your vote, and if not, I understand. The best that I can offer is that, if we can’t agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line. And in my view, it’s the woman who is faced with that decision in her own life.”
When Wallace asked if Day was satisfied by Buttigieg’s response, she accused him of dodging part of her question.
“I was not, because he didn’t answer the second part of my question,” she said. “The Democratic platform contains language that basically says that we don’t belong, we have no part in the party because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months; the government should pay for it. And there’s nothing that says that people that have a diversity of views on this issue should be included in the party.”
Buttigieg responded that he had “never encountered a politician or frankly another person that I agreed with 100 percent of the time, even on very important things.”
“I support the position of my party that this kind of medical care needs to be available to everyone,” he continued. “And I support the Roe v. Wade framework that holds that early in pregnancy, there are very few restrictions and later in pregnancy, there are very few exceptions. And again, the best I can offer is that we may disagree on that very important issue, and hopefully we’ll be able to partner on other issues. … I cannot imagine that a decision that a woman confronts is going to ever be better medically or morally because it’s being dictated by any government official. And that’s just where I am on the issue.”
Can you be a pro-life Democrat?
The Democrat Party has made clear that unless you agree with them 100% of the time, you are not welcome.
The intolerance on the left knows no bounds. pic.twitter.com/abubkeA2OE
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) January 27, 2020
Earlier in the evening, Buttigieg had joined other prominent politicians — including President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama — along with sports stars and celebrities in publicly grieving Bryant’s death at age 41. In those comments, on Twitter and to reporters, Buttigieg correctly described Bryant as having excelled on the basketball “court.”