South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been rising in the polls and sweeping in fundraising dollars (from Hollywood, among other places), thanks to poised town hall and interview performances, an impressive intellect, his genial and calm demeanor, and his generational change message, which does seem to have resonance.
He has also handled his sexual identity and marriage with such grace and dignity (at the recent Victory Fund gathering, for example) as to impress both straight and LGBTQ audiences.
As Jamie Kirchick, a gay NeverTrump Republican, wrote:
Buttigieg is a model of conventional, bourgeois gay domesticity, and one who frequently quotes Christian scripture unironically. The heterosexual president whom Buttigieg hopes to defeat (and our self-proclaimed “moral majority” hypocritically supports) has been married three times, bribed a porn star to prevent her from publicizing allegations of adulterous peccadilloes, been accused by multiple women of sexual assault, bragged obscenely on tape about molesting women, joked about dating his daughter, and once boasted that avoiding STDs was his “personal Vietnam.”
That an openly gay politician can convincingly portray himself as more virtuous than a straight opponent attests to more than just the character of the current president.
As if Buttigieg had not gotten enough credit for his character, he caught a break: The hypocritical evangelical leader Franklin Graham, who has rationalized Trump’s infidelity and racism, ignored his lies, cheered his inhumane immigration policy and behaved as a political hack rather than a religious leader, attacked Buttigieg via Twitter:
Showing restraint and class, Buttigieg declined to respond to this hate-filled attack, and in doing so underscored the personal qualities Kirchick and others have praised. (“The fact that a gay politician can say of a straight one, with absolute plausibility, ‘It is hard to look at this president’s actions and believe that they’re the actions of somebody who believes in God’ is not just a sign that the religious left is successfully fighting the religious right on its own rhetorical turf,” Kirchick writes.)
Public Religion Research Institute’s chief executive Robert Jones, who has studied Americans’ views and values, tells me: “While Franklin Graham has not changed his tune on LGBT rights in decades, the American public has. Graham’s recent comments about Pete Buttigieg are strongly out of step not only with the country as a whole but with most Christians.”
Jones points to his 2018 survey, which showed that “more than six in ten (62%) Americans say gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry legally, while only about half as many (30%) are opposed.” That was a 10 percent increase in support for same-sex marriage from 2015 “when a smaller majority (53%) of Americans supported same-sex marriage, and almost four in ten (37%) opposed this policy. And they represent a 26-point increase from 2007, when over one in three (36%) Americans supported same-sex marriage, while a majority (55%) were opposed.”
The PRRI study, however, also showed that Graham’s cohorts in the evangelical community are part of the only religious group that still disapproves of same-sex marriage. “About one-third (34%) of white evangelical Protestants support same-sex marriage [in 2018], while six in ten (60%) are opposed.” (By the way, before the election, Trump had openly supported same-sex marriage and promised to be the best president for gays ever.)
Nevertheless, Graham’s generation may be the last that condemns gay marriage. The PRRI report found that 53 percent of young white evangelical Protestants (ages 18 to 29) favor the legality of same-sex marriage, compared to just 25 percent of white evangelical seniors. Nearly 6 in 10 young Republicans (ages 18 to 29) favor the legality of same-sex marriage, compared to only 28 percent of Republican seniors.
In sum, Buttigieg gets the benefit of being attacked by a right-winger whom progressives revile, gets to underscore a message of generational change and acceptance and gets to demonstrate what a class act he is. The other candidates must be wondering why some GOP hatemonger doesn’t attack them.