The letter was almost immediately derided as a “nothing statement” on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, where outrage over a single can of Bud Light illustrated with Mulvaney’s face has been driving headlines all month.
Mulvaney, a transgender actor and influencer who has performed in the “Book of Mormon” musical and held a conversation with President Biden, posted a joking Instagram video on April 1, showing off a can of Bud Light the company had sent her, personally with a photo 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 launch pad for another advertising campaign, one in which conservatives use Bud Light as a foil for their own demonstrations of their right-wing bona fides,” wrote Philip Bump in The Washington Post. “Politicians like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) offered social media posts asking 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, as it often does threaten boycotts when a prominent company appears to embrace gender fluidity, or if the campaign seriously damaged the market share of Anheuser-Busch, whose stock has been falling steadily for years.
But barely two days after the backlash, the company showed signs that it was concerned. On April 3, an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson assured Fox News and other outlets that “the commemorative box 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 that same week, citing employee safety concerns. Anheuser-Busch also told Vox that it was working with law enforcement after the news site reported that several of its facilities had received bomb threats.
She’s in Bud Light ads all over the internet. Who is Dylan Mulvaney?
The beer giant has not been alone in its 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, prompting former Olympians Sharron Davies and Caitlyn Jenner (who is transgender himself) criticized the brand.
Mulvaney spoke generally about the social media bullying she’s faced over the past year in an episode of the “Onward With Rosie O’Donnell” podcast that aired Tuesday. “I’ve tried to be the most uncontroversial person for the past year, and somehow it’s still made me controversial,” Mulvaney said. “I think it comes back to the fact that these people, they don’t understand me and everything I do or say is somehow taken out of context and used against me. And it’s so sad because everything I try to say is positive, it’s trying to connect with others who might not understand me, it’s to make people laugh or make a child feel seen.”
Donald Trump Jr. spoke Thursday on his own podcast, calling for an end to the Anheuser-Busch boycott, saying he does not support “destroying an American, an iconic company for something like this.” (Belgium-based InBev bought Anheuser-Busch in 2008.) “The company itself does not engage in the same left-wing nonsense as the other big conglomerates,” Trump said. “Honestly, 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 condition of anonymity to discuss his thinking, said Trump Jr. had not been in contact with Anheuser-Busch, and that it was a coincidence that the company’s CEO published his open letter next. day, entitled “Our Responsibilities to America.”
Whatever the intent of Whitworth’s letter, its immediate effect was to make him as much a target of outrage as Mulvaney himself. His missive was almost scorned in tens of thousands of Twitter responses, either for failing to stand by Mulvaney or for not explicitly rejecting her. Anheuser-Busch used a new Twitter feature to hide hundreds of more obscene replies attacking Mulvaney, Whitworth and Budweiser itself.
“Put Trump on a box!!” read one of them. “Let’s see how that works?! Maybe, just maybe, you’ll make up some of your losses.” Spokesmen for Anheuser-Busch, Nike and Mulvaney did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.