World News

Australia’s Political Brawl Has Another Winner: A Popcorn Seller in Texas

Peter Dutton, an Australian politician, was defeated in his efforts to become prime minister Friday.

Posted Updated

Daniel Victor
, New York Times

Peter Dutton, an Australian politician, was defeated in his efforts to become prime minister Friday.

But Peter Dutton, a popcorn seller in Austin, Texas, 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 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 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,” 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.

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 supporter of its zero-tolerance policy toward migrants who try to arrive by boat.

But after days of political chaos in Australia’s capital, Canberra, the country’s conservative lawmakers on Friday chose a different member of their party to become the country’s newest prime minister.

Scott Morrison, who had been the country’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 Dutton, a former home affairs minister, and Julie Bishop, the country’s foreign minister.

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.

“I wish the people of Australia would look at my profile and realize I’m a 30 yr old black man before sending me tweets and DMs,” he wrote on Twitter.

After his first tweet about the mix-up, 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, which ended Friday with Dutton’s rival Scott Morrison becoming prime minister after days of infighting. 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 pregnant wife before she is due in January. He was interviewed on an Australian morning show 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, 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 Dutton, the politician, succeeded in his bid for prime minister, the popcorn-selling 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,” Dutton said. “The people’s prime minister is the race I was running. I promised the people I would bring popcorn and myself.”

Copyright 2023 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.