Australia’s Political Brawl Has Another Winner: A Popcorn Seller in Texas
August 25, 2018
Peter Dutton, an Australian politician, was defeated in his efforts to become prime minister on Friday.
But Peter Dutton, a popcorn seller in Austin, Tex., turned a fleeting moment of mistaken identity into fame on the other side of the world, plans for a new vacation and a potentially lucrative business opportunity.
The latter Mr. Dutton, 30, experienced a now-common social media phenomenon: sharing the name of a person in the news, he (@PeterDutton5) received a barrage of messages intended for someone else (@PeterDutton_MP). This being Twitter, most of the messages were less than pleasant.
It has happened many times before, and will happen many times again. Ask George Papadopoulos, Jonathan Martin or Gerry Sandusky.
But Mr. Dutton was able to capitalize on it. Charmed by his responses on Twitter, hundreds, if not thousands, of Australians have clamored for him to visit, and some donated to a crowdfunding page to buy him a plane ticket. They’ve offered him places to stay and, in classic Australian fashion, bottomless beer.
“There’s been a love felt through the internet that I’ll never forget,” Mr. Dutton, who now calls himself the “People’s Prime Minister of Australia,” said by telephone from Austin — soon after the other Peter Dutton learned that he would not be getting the real job.
Mr. Dutton, the politician, who had hoped to replace Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is one of Australia’s most conservative public figures, known as a particularly staunch proponent of its zero-tolerance policy toward migrants who try to arrive by boat.
But after days of political chaos in Australia’s capital, Canberra, conservative lawmakers on Friday chose a different member of their party to lead the country.
Scott Morrison, who had been Australia’s treasurer, was sworn in as the nation’s sixth prime minister in 11 years after a vote by the governing Liberal Party, in which he defeated both Mr. Dutton, a former home affairs minister, and Julie Bishop, the country’s foreign minister.
Mr. Dutton is roundly loathed by many Australians on the left side of the country’s political divide — which may account for the enthusiastic reception for the other Peter Dutton, once the confusion was cleared away.
After his first tweet about the mix-up, Mr. Dutton set his phone down, not thinking much of it. But within minutes, more than 1,000 people had “liked” it. His wife, trying to fall asleep, asked why he was still awake.
“Twitter” is rarely a satisfying answer to that question, but he explained what was happening.
“She’s like, ‘What have you gotten yourself into?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know, but the people of Australia have spoken.’”
Typically, when someone becomes an instant viral sensation, they quickly learn that anonymous people like to say awful things. But no such thing happened here: “It’s been nothing but love,” he said.
Many Australians seemed to appreciate the break from this week’s political intrigue. People praised the Texas Dutton’s sense of humor and offered good wishes for his soon-to-come daughter. And maybe he wouldn’t mind running for prime minister?
He is already working with Amazon in Australia to bring his soul food-inspired snack, Soul Popped Popcorn, to the market, and he plans to visit with his wife before she gives birth in January. He was interviewed on an Australian morning show on Friday, and news stations are eager to put him on camera during his visit, he said.
Before this week, all he knew about Australian politics was that there was some guy there with the same name as him, Mr. Dutton said. He would occasionally field a tweet directed at the politician, which he would respond to by politely directing the mistaken Australian to the correct account.
Had Mr. Dutton, the politician, succeeded in his bid for prime minister, the popcorn-selling Mr. Dutton might have seen many more misfired tweets, and perhaps a longer stay in the consciousness of Australians. But the one from Texas said it was no loss for him.
“He lost, but I was never running the race,” Mr. Dutton said. “The people’s prime minister is the race I was running. I promised the people I would bring popcorn and myself.”