Republicans are going to attack any Democrat who shows any strength in the presidential election. There will always be something. After a contested win in Iowa and a close second in New Hampshire, Pete Buttigieg’s moment for those attacks has arrived, and it was never a mystery what one of the Republican attacks would be. Homophobes going to homophobe.
The first high-profile homophobe to step up to the plate was newly minted Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh. “They’re sitting there and they’re looking at Mayor Pete—a 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, a 37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband onstage next to Mr. Man Donald Trump? What’s going to happen there?” There is SO MUCH to say about this.
First off, a bit of bookkeeping: Buttigieg is now 38 years old.
Now that we have that out of the way: “MR. MAN DONALD TRUMP”? This is the right wing’s symbol of masculinity: a guy who paints his skin, elaborately styles his comb-over, lies about his weight, and whose wife routinely slaps his hand away in public? It’s certainly beneath Buttigieg to do it, but if that debate ever happens, could someone bring Stormy Daniels to sit in the front row and hold her thumb and index finger just a couple inches apart?
Okay, okay, there are bigger issues here. It takes an idea of masculinity that’s both fragile and toxic to think that Buttigieg’s sexuality in any way diminishes his masculinity, and equally to think that masculinity is an important component of debate stage presence. Hillary Clinton owned Trump each time they debated, unless you’re judging debate success by looming creepily or yelling “No puppet! No puppet! You’re the puppet!” (And that was a moderately more coherent Trump than the one we see these days.) Even if we believe that Donald Trump is a prime example of masculinity and even if we grant that a fair number of voters are sexist, masculinity is still not the top requirement of presidential debating. Otherwise we’d be seeing, like, weathered cowboy vs. NFL tight end presidential contests. (And we’d still end up with a gay president eventually.)
Of course Limbaugh won’t be alone. The more seriously the right takes Buttigieg as a candidate, the more homophobic incoming he’s going to take from high-profile sources. Former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka took it in a weird direction—probably the first of many weird directions—when he connected Buttigieg’s sexuality to … abortion. “Why is a homosexual man lecturing us about the sanctity of life in the womb? Just a little curious there,” Gorka said. Gee, I don’t know, Sebastian, why is any man?
And while this particular line of attack may be rising up the ranks of the Republican Party and right-wing media ecosystem, it’s not like Buttigieg’s campaign hasn’t been getting homophobic messages from the beginning, because it has. “It doesn’t matter much,” he told The Washington Post much earlier in the campaign. “The criticisms that really get to you are ones you take seriously, ones that might be right. When someone’s attacking me over a decision I made that might be wrong, that’s going to make me stop and think … If someone calls me a faggot—okay.”
Pete Buttigieg did not come out of the closet as a grown-ass man who was already an elected official clearly looking at his options to become a high-profile national politician without stopping to think about the likelihood that some people are bigots and jerks. This was baked in from the beginning. And, again, if Republicans weren’t attacking him because he has a public and loving relationship with his very charming husband, they’d be attacking him for another reason, because he’s a Democrat and that’s what they do. Shoot, this is a week when Donald Trump attacked Michael Bloomberg for racist comments. Which were racist, but come on, Donald Trump? Acting like racism is bad? Talk about a perfect example that Republicans will take any excuse to attack a Democrat.