The coming (verbal) assault on Mayor Pete and... the "gay question"

We’re coming up fast on the next Democratic primary debate and there’s been a major shift in the pole positions of this race. In just the past week, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has pulled into a double-digit lead in not only Iowa but New Hampshire as well. This is going to put him in an unaccustomed spot when the candidates take the stage since he’s going to have a huge target on his back.

The other candidates will have to be careful how they go after Buttigieg, however. The same trap they normally set for Republicans will be ready to bite them in the backsides if they come after him too harshly. Any time a conservative criticizes the policies of a female candidate they are labeled as a misogynist. If they challenge the positions of an African-American or Hispanic candidate they are accused of racism. But now, if Biden, Warren or Sanders come after Mayor Pete too roughly they’ll be open to charges of homophobia. Hey, liberals… you baked this particular cake. Now you get to eat a slice.

But it’s precisely the issue of Buttigieg’s sexual orientation that’s lurking in the background. Will any of the other candidates dare to bring it up? That’s unlikely in the extreme, but the political press has already been digging into it. Over at Politico, they’ve got a report about a town hall where somebody already raised the issue with the candidate.

On a cold night in a small town, a man had a question for Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate with a serious shot at the American presidency. How, he wanted to know, would he deal with leaders of foreign countries where it’s still illegal to be gay? Buttigieg, dressed as he almost always is, in brown shoes and blue slacks and a plain white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, stood in the center of a stage surrounded by more than a thousand people who had packed into the gymnasium of the high school. Buttigieg gripped the hand-held mic and took a few steps forward.

“Sooooo,” he said, drawing out the syllable and the suspense, “they’re going to have to get used to it.”

That specific question is rather silly. What foreign leaders in countries where homosexuality is still banned or disparaged think about the American President’s sexual orientation is a moot point. Nobody is going to arrest the President of the United States on a foreign trip over something like that. It’s similar to when female American diplomats have traveled to Muslim nations where headscarves are required. Many have refused to honor the custom and nothing came of it.

But that doesn’t mean that “the gay question” is entirely settled back home. We would be expressing willful ignorance if we pretended not to know that some voters in America aren’t as woke on the subject as you might wish to believe, and that includes many in the base of the Democratic Party. Politico very recently reported on a poll showing that a majority of people say they are personally open to a gay or lesbian president, but “58 percent of Republicans, 32 percent of independents and 22 percent of Democrats say they aren’t ready” for that sort of result.

Even more to the point, this same Morning Consult poll showed a shift when people were asked if their neighbors were ready for a gay couple in the White House. Barely a quarter said they were, while just shy of half said “their neighbors” either definitely or probably weren’t ready. This common practice among polling organizations is often very useful. Many voters will feel uncomfortable verbally expressing what they deem to be an unpopular opinion, such as harboring feelings of racism, sexism or bias against gays. But when asked if their neighbors might feel that way, their true feelings begin to show through.

As far as the woke Democrats go, they’re going to have to wrestle with a tough issue. Everyone is ready for a hypothetical gay president. But how many of them are ready for a flesh and blood, all too real gay president and the first “First Dude?” That’s a question the Buttigieg campaign will need to be ready to answer, assuming anyone actually asks them.

On a related topic dealing with the racial issue, we’ve already covered repeatedly the fact that Buttigieg has attracted basically zero support from black Democratic primary voters. Even if he manages to somehow win the nomination on the strength of only his white supporters, will he be able to excite black voters in the general election and drive minority turnout the way Barack Obama did and Hillary Clinton didn’t? And Clinton at least had modest support in the African-American community. Buttigieg appears to have essentially none. Can he win a general election under those conditions? And will any of his opponents at this debate dare to ask him that? Stay tuned.