Republicans were denounce Pete Buttigieg and challenging that he will be replaced as transport minister.

You’re right. Buttigieg’s time at work has witnessed some truly stunning disasters, like Southwest Airlines’ Christmas debacle and last week’s 90-minute suspension of all air travel — the first since 9/11.

But conservatives actually do want Government action to prevent these disasters? That would mean a better-funded Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and a Secretary of Transportation ready to turn the regulatory hammer on American companies.

The likes of Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton are happy to pick up a few cheap political points by complaining about the mess. But they would howl in outrage at “big government” if Buttigieg were replaced with someone willing to do what actually needs to be done.

Buttigieg vs Republicans

Until recently, Pete Buttigieg was one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party. In 2020, he nearly won the party’s presidential nomination — a remarkable feat considering his only previous experience of public office was one rocky tenure as mayor of a small town in Indiana. Although there is some controversy over the outcome“Mayor Pete” walked in just in second place behind Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa primary. But after being thrashed in South Carolina’s primary, he sided with Joe Biden just before Super Tuesday, putting him in the bizarre position of having won more congressional delegates than the man he stepped out to support.

Buttigieg’s calculation seemed clear enough at the time. He didn’t think he could beat both Biden and Sanders for the nomination, but if he could help Biden win it and get a cabinet job in the Biden administration as a consolation prize, he’d be well positioned for the future. He might have hoped for a bigger prize as transport secretary, but he was clearly willing to use whatever visibility the position gave him for whatever it was worth.

Unsurprisingly, given his notoriety and future ambitions, he’s been the target of constant Republican attacks — far more than would be usual for a Secretary of Transportation.

Some of these attacks were based on nonsense or bigotry or culture war fluff. We have heard a quantity for example, about supposedly “woke” guidelines from the Department of Transportation. And many conservatives stalked Buttigieg for taking paternity leave when he and husband Chasten adopted twins in 2021 — a criticism that often came with an ugly undercurrent of homophobia.

But even in 2021, ongoing supply chain issues provided plenty of fuel for more sensible attacks. 2022 was a year of record flight cancellations. And as 2022 rolls into 2023, finding reasons to criticize the transport secretary has never been easier.

How “Mayor Pete” became the face of traffic chaos

When air traffic came to a brief standstill earlier this month, the culprit appears to have been the FAA’s old and overburdened computer system. Buttigieg’s defense attorneys have at least some justification for pointing out that Congress (rather than the Secretary of Transportation) should increase the agency’s budget.

But the timing was very bad for Buttigieg’s ambitious resume-building. This new meltdown came two weeks after Southwest Airlines stranded tens of thousands of passengers — and many of their own flight attendant-on Christmas day. Buttigieg drew attention to the plight of flight attendants and met with representatives from her union, potentially restoring some credit to organized labor following the Biden administration’s recent decision to quash a possible rail strike — a decision Biden’s transportation secretary had to publicly defend . And he appeared to be conducting an investigation.

Buttigieg could and should have used his regulatory powers to make such catastrophes less likely.

David Sirota, editor-in-chief of The Lever, said on The Daily Beast’s New Abnormal podcast, “The Colorado Attorney General filed a letter ahead of the Southwest meltdown and a number of other attorney generals, an official comment letter, telling Buttigieg to finally to pass a rule that has been sitting in the Transport Department for four months, obliging airlines to only sell flights they have enough staff to fly, and says the department should make it clear it imposes significant fines for weather-related cancellations and prolonged delays becomes -conditional or otherwise unavoidable.”

If I had spent Christmas standing in line at an airport to collect my checked bags and then tried to find an alternative flight on the 26th – as one of the people I was supposed to be spending the holidays with – did. , I might have spent part of my endless hours waiting in lines and wondering why this rule had never been implemented. If I’d been up enough on political news to know these things, I might have spent some of those hours wondering why, when the time came for Secretary Buttigieg, he chose a new acting chief of the FAA to appoint passed over the deputy administrator who would have been next in line for the job and selected a former airline industry lobbyist.

I would certainly find it easy to nod to far-right Senator Tom Cotton if Cotton joked that “Pete Buttigieg couldn’t organize a one-car funeral.” Or when fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said more drily that the FAA needed more “competent leadership” than Buttigieg gave it.

But what do people like Cotton and Cruz actually want?

This is the same GOP that is so concerned about government interference in the sacred domain of the free market that it scrapped a price cap proposal last year insulin.

Are they willing to increase the FAA’s budget so they can get better computers and hire a lot more administrators – you know, “government bureaucrats” – to enforce the rules? And would they actually want Joe Biden to replace Buttigieg with a Secretary of Transportation willing to use his regulatory powers to work with a new FAA chief to instill fear of big government in the hearts of airline executives?

I’m not holding my breath. The FAA has big problems, funding is just one of them