The letter was almost instantly derided as a “nothing statement” on Fox News and other right-leaning media outlets, where fury over a single can of Bud Light illustrated with the face of Mulvaney has fueled headlines all month.
Mulvaney, a transgender actress and influencer who has performed in the “Book of Mormon” musical and held conversation with President Biden, published a jokey Instagram video on April 1, showing off a can of Bud Light the company had sent her, personalized with an image of her face to celebrate the first anniversary of her coming out.
The right-wing backlash took shape within hours. “The Mulvaney-Bud Light video essentially served as a jumping-off point for a different advertising campaign, one in which conservatives use Bud Light as a foil for their own demonstrations of their right-wing bona fides,” Philip Bump wrote in The Washington Post. “Politicians like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) offered social media posts calling for people to boycott Bud Light,” while musicians “popular with conservative audiences spoke out against the brand. Kid Rock used an AR-15-style rifle to pepper several cases of beer with bullets.”
It is unclear whether the protest ever expanded beyond right-wing personalities, who often threaten boycotts when a prominent company appears to embrace gender fluidity, or whether the campaign seriously hurt the market share of Anheuser-Busch, whose stock has steadily fallen for years.
But barely two days into the backlash, the company showed signs that it was worried. On April 3, an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson assured Fox News and other outlets that the “commemorative can was a gift” to Mulvaney “to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public.” A Budweiser distributor canceled a promotional event in Missouri the same week, citing concerns about employee safety. Anheuser-Busch also told Vox it was working with law enforcement after the news site reported that several of its facilities had received bomb threats.
The beer giant has not been alone in conservative crosshairs. Four days after Mulvaney posted her Bud Light video, she announced a paid partnership with Nike in an Instagram post in which she modeled leggings and a sports bra, leading former Olympians Sharron Davies and Caitlyn Jenner (who is transgender herself) to criticize the brand.
Mulvaney spoke generally about the social media bullying she has faced over the past year on an episode of the podcast “Onward With Rosie O’Donnell” released Tuesday. “I have tried to be the most uncontroversial person this past year, and somehow it has made me controversial still,” Mulvaney said. “I think it comes back to the fact that these people, they don’t understand me, and anything that I do or say somehow gets taken out of context and is used against me. And it’s so sad because everything that I try to put out is positive, it’s trying to connect with others that maybe don’t understand me, it’s to make people laugh or to make a kid feel seen.”
Speaking Thursday on his own podcast, Donald Trump Jr. called for the end of the Anheuser-Busch boycott, saying he doesn’t support “destroying an American, an iconic, company for something like this.” (Belgium-based InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch in 2008.) “The company itself doesn’t participate in the same leftist nonsense as the other big conglomerates,” Trump said. “Frankly, they don’t participate in the same woke garbage that other people in the beer industry actually do.”
A person close to Trump Jr., who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss his thinking, said Trump Jr. had not been in contact with Anheuser-Busch, and it was a coincidence that the company’s chief executive published his open letter the next day, titling it “Our Responsibility to America.”
Whatever the intent of Whitworth’s letter was, its immediate effect was to make him as much a target of rage as Mulvaney herself. His missive was almost roundly disparaged in tens of thousands of Twitter replies, either for failing to stand by Mulvaney or for not explicitly disavowing her. Anheuser-Busch used a new Twitter feature to hide hundreds of more obscene replies that attacked Mulvaney, Whitworth and Budweiser itself.
“Put Trump on a can!!” read one of them. “Let’s see how that works?! Maybe, just maybe, you’ll make up some of your losses.” Spokespersons for Anheuser-Busch, Nike and Mulvaney did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.