“The fact that I’m standing here — the fact that my husband’s in the audience watching right now — is just an amazing example of that belief that yes, yes, you belong, and this country has a place for you,” he said at a CNN town hall last week.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said that despite Buttigieg’s performance in Iowa and New Hampshire, Democratic Party leaders must realize that most Americans aren’t going to choose a gay man over Trump. Here’s what he said:
They’re sitting there and they’re looking at Mayor Pete, 37-year-old gay guy, mayor of South Bend, loves to kiss his husband on the debate stage. And they’re saying, “okay, how’s this going to look, 37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband onstage next to ‘Mr. Man’ Donald Trump? What’s going to happen there?” And they got to be looking at that, and they’ve got to be saying, that despite all the great progress and despite all the great wokeness, and despite all the great ground that’s been covered, America’s still not ready to elect a gay guy, kissing his husband on the debate stage, president. They have to be saying this, don’t they?
Ben Ferguson, a conservative radio show host and CNN commentator, was asked about those comments Thursday and said that he’s been in conversation with Democrats who also think Buttigieg would have a hard time defeating Trump because of his sexual orientation.
“I do think — and I talked about this on my radio show yesterday with only Democrats calling in: Does it matter that he is an openly gay man? There was a surprising number of Democratic voters who said it was an issue for them,” Ferguson said Thursday on CNN.
“The reality is what Limbaugh was talking about: There are Democrats sitting there worried that this is going to be a bigger issue,” Ferguson added.
Even Trump, on the podcast of Fox News analyst Geraldo Rivera, said Thursday that he believes Buttigieg would lose some support because of his sexual orientation.
“I think there would be some that wouldn’t [vote for him], and I wouldn’t be among that group to be honest with you,” Trump said.
“It doesn’t seem to be hurting him very much,” he added referring to his performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. “But … there would be a group that probably wouldn’t. But you or I wouldn’t be in that group.”
How the electorate would rule on a matchup between a young, gay man and Trump is anyone’s guess at this point. But there’s some merit to Limbaugh’s, Trump’s and Ferguson’s belief that Americans might choose Trump if presented with that option. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll shows that Trump is more competitive against Democrats now than he was three months ago. And specifically in a matchup between Buttigieg and Trump, the former mayor is at 45 percent to the president’s 48 percent.
Buttigieg’s sexual orientation does not appear to have been a major hurdle for Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, but in many ways, those groups are not representative of the country at large. Limbaugh, in his spiel, repeatedly mentioned that Buttigieg is married to a man with whom he is publicly affectionate. The thinking is that even among voters who might tolerate Buttigieg, his being married to a man would not be acceptable for a potential commander in chief.
Soon the mayor will have to face Democrats in South Carolina, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee — states with a larger percentage of religious Democrats who might view Buttigieg’s sexual orientation differently from those in New England and Iowa, the first state in the Midwest to legalize same-sex marriage. But even in Iowa, a state where Buttigieg performed well, a caucusgoer pulled back her vote once she learned that the candidate was gay.
"I don’t want anybody like that in the White House,” she said after learning that Buttigieg has a husband. “So, can I have my card back?”
#PeteButtigieg precinct captain in rural Iowa responds to a caucus-goer flipping out upon learning that he has a same-sex partner. It’s a masterclass in patience, persistence, and love. Bravo @nikkiheever #IowaCaucuses #cresco #howardcountyiowa pic.twitter.com/PhX7vRFh8X— Annabel Park (@annabelpark) February 4, 2020
Conversations about electability have been common on the left since the earliest days of the 2020 campaign. Shortly after Buttigieg expressed interest in the White House, some have questioned whether a gay candidate could win the widespread support required to defeat Trump.
“The whispered comments in this campaign have been, ‘Well, he’s a great guy, he’s a great candidate, and I’ll vote for him, but I don’t think other Democrats will,’” Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports LGBT candidates seeking office, told The Post’s Chelsea Janes.
Attracting rural and conservative voters in Iowa “was an opportunity to just blow that conversation up,” she added.
But it’s not yet clear how blown up the issue about the electability of a gay man is.
Sure, support for same-sex marriage has increased in recent years, but there is data that supports the idea that a significant percentage of the voting public are not as liberal on LGBT issues as Buttigieg — and specifically, do not support his right to marry. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, nearly one-third of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. And among Americans who helped send Trump to the White House, support for same-sex marriage is in the minority — Republicans (44 percent), white evangelical Christians (29 percent) and elderly Americans (45 percent). These are voters that Buttigieg has tried to appeal to in his argument that Trump is an immoral leader.
Trump’s campaign pledge to make America great again implied that the country’s best days were in the past — a message that resonated with many of the conservative Christian, white working-class and rural voters who backed him 2016. The America that many of these voters long for is an America led by a heterosexual president married to a woman.
Polling repeatedly shows that Trump supporters chose him because of their “cultural anxiety” about the future of America following Barack Obama, who said that allowing same-sex marriage “made our union a little more perfect.” On issues related to gender and sexual orientation, many of these voters are still looking for a leader who would reverse the advancements the Obama administration made on LGBT issues or at the very least halt the process — something Trump has done. Picking Buttigieg would not only reverse Trump’s positions on LGBT rights, but also pick up where Obama left off.
Buttigieg has been vocal about his support for LGBT rights, and critical of conservative Christians such as Vice President Pence who don’t support them. The intent seems to be to encourage some “values voters” to rethink their stance on issues like LGBT rights. And perhaps that worked in Iowa. But Limbaugh, Trump and Ferguson aren’t wrong to presume voters nationwide might choose Trump over a gay man. Media targeting conservative Christians have increasingly criticized Buttigieg for his sexuality and stances on LGBT issues. Upcoming races could provide some clarity on how effective this approach will be. But before then, the president and conservative media aren’t wrong to think Buttigieg would have a hard time facing Trump. One thing the president and conservative media personalities know is their base, and so far, these people seem to be suggesting that many Americans are not ready yet for the country to be led by a gay man.