At 37, Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the 2020 presidential election, while Bernie Sanders, 78, is the oldest. But don’t assume that Mayor Pete is the favorite among Gen Z, the country’s youngest voting demographic. On popular teen app TikTok, Sanders is an unfiltered, authentic king — and centrist stooge Buttigieg is the biggest Boomer of them all.
For proof, look no further than the Buttigieg campaign’s cringe-y signature dance to Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” — and the TikToks roasting it.
The dude above is Jake Colosa, a student at New York University and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who recreates the “High Hopes” dance with dismissive takes on Buttigieg’s platforms: “Medicare for all who want it,” “Mandatory military service,” “All lives matter (I don’t want your votes).” The final text: “Mayo Pete 2020.”
“The format lent itself to the three bad takes of Mayor Pete’s,” Colosa tells MEL.
Currently, the #mayopete hashtag on TikTok has 31,000 views — more than #buttigieg, with 23,000, and #buttigieg2020, with 11,000. #Bernie2020 has 14 million; #bernie has 5 million.
Why “Mayo” Pete? Because the candidate is bland and overwhelmingly white, his young critics tell MEL. “In the beginning, I felt he was more progressive than he is now in a lot of his stances,” Colosa explains. “He tries to spin these centrist policies as something bold and new, but they’re not going to do that much to help that many people.”
- “Talk about milquetoast policies in 8 languages”
- “Demolish policies to Black and brown people”
- “Lose to Trump”
- “Being racist in 8 languages”
- “Not wanting all Americans to have basic voting rights”
- “Being a billionaire bootlicker”
- “Hating poor people”
Another adds: “this is the dance my insurance company does when denying my claim. WE NEED BERNIE SANDERS. WE NEED MEDICARE 4 ALL.”
“Mayo Pete” TikTokers are focused on Buttigieg’s backing by corporate sponsors and billionaire Democrats. “We are pretty disaffected with the establishment Dems (like Pete and Amy [Klobuchar]) who are always pushing the status quo and agenda of corporate backers,” says Will Bricca, a student at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Bricca and three friends created their own version of the “High Hopes” dance: One guy stands with one leg each in a trash can, while Bricca is pushed over for being a Klobuchar fan (he has a green “Amy” button in his mouth). It’s satirical and hastily made. Their goal: “Create a beautiful centrist masterpiece.”
Generally, TikTok politics is so anti-capitalist, even Elizabeth Warren was slammed for identifying as one.
“The anti-billionaire crew on TikTok is strong, and there seems to be this public argument of should or should there not be billionaires,” says Taylor Lorenz, technology reporter at the New York Times.
Lorenz’s thread of “Mayo Pete 2020” TikToks popularized the trend on Twitter. The videos reminded her of the jokes around Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign theme, “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. “‘Fight Song’ was this emblematic song of their campaign, and people involved with the campaign would sing it very earnestly, but her detractors would just mock it,” Lorenz says.
Many college students who jumped on the Mayo Pete trend were hesitant to speak publicly to a journalist, even though they bashed the politician on social media. “I believe it’s one thing to dunk on a candidate as a joke for a video and another thing for me to publicly shit on them to a media outlet. And I know myself. There’s no way I wouldn’t be shitting on Pete,” says one nonbinary college student, who asked to remain anonymous.
Their hesitance to speak publicly isn’t about moral superiority, the student says. “If it were my school’s chapter, I wouldn’t give a fuck. I believe in being mean” — but as a representative for a national queer college political group, they’re aware it’s not a good look to be bashing the only gay candidate in the presidential race. “I wouldn’t want to publicly shit on queer Pete supporters by calling him an Uncle Tom or anything like that, which I would definitely do,” they say.
Maybe Buttigieg will find a way to court the young leftist crowd now that he made a TikTok account. What if he found a way to boost his edge by remixing the Mayo Pete memes and embracing the narrative? The teens would welcome the challenge. As Bricca from Temple University says, “It’s always fun to razz on Mayor Pete. He’s such a funny little guy.”