I have written a few times about Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has moved rapidly from complete unknown to third place in a poll among Democratic contenders for the presidency. This weekend, Buttigieg formally announced his candidacy.
There are two areas of significant controversy regarding Buttigieg that I haven’t mentioned so far. The first is doubts some African-Americans have about him. The second is his dispute with Vice President Pence.
Robert Costa discusses Buttigieg and race in a report for the Washington Post. Buttigieg has a troubled city to run and, in running it, he upset some blacks in two ways: first through his efforts to knock down blighted housing in South Bend, housing that was home mostly to African-Americans, and second by firing South Bend’s first black police chief, who happened to be under investigation by the feds.
On its face, these two actions — trying to renew housing in blighted areas and firing a seemingly corrupt police chief — don’t seem like legitimate concerns. However, it depends on the details, which I haven’t yet examined.
But legitimate or not, if Buttigieg has a problem with black voters, then he has a problem. One can imagine him gaining buzz through good showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, but then getting clobbered when states with large numbers of black primary voters, e.g., South Carolina, vote.
And even if Buttigieg gets a pass for his actions as mayor of South Bend, where is the appeal to black voters of this gay, preppy-looking young mayor? To the extent that black voters are going to support a white candidate, why wouldn’t that be Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s sidekick (assuming Biden enters)?
The Pence-Buttigieg dispute centers on Pence’s views on gay rights. Buttigieg has ripped Pence for supporting a law banning gay marriage and for backing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In turn, David Horowtiz rips Buttigieg for his attacks on Pence, noting that, as governor of Indiana, Pence was good to “Mayor Pete.” Horowitz calls Buttigieg “a shameless liar, a calculating character assassin and an anti-religious/anti-free speech bigot.” And that’s just for starters.
Frankly, I don’t blame Buttigieg for holding it against Pence that he wants to ban gay marriage. If someone viewed my marriage as sinful or simply wanted to prevent me from marrying the person I love, I would be quite displeased, too. Mike Pence might be the nicest guy in the world. His views on gay marriage are still sufficient reason for Buttigieg to attack him.
However, that’s not the end of the story. Buttigieg has also ripped Pence for being Donald Trump’s vice president. He calls this administration “the porn star presidency” and questions how Pence can be a true Christian and still serve as the VP.
Buttigieg’s “porn star presidency” barb is a cheap shot. The fact that Trump had sex with a porn star many years ago doesn’t make this a porn star presidency.
More importantly, Buttigieg seems to be questioning whether working for Trump is consistent with being a good Christian. During one interview, he wondered whether Pence stopped “believing in scripture when he started believing Donald Trump.” He thus tried to make opposition to a particular politician a litmus test for being religious.
This is unacceptable. It smacks of religious-based authoritarianism and goes a ways towards justifying Horowitz’s attack on Buttigieg.
I also think Buttigieg is being quite disingenuous when he claims “I’m not interested in feuding with the vice president.” What could be more beneficial to Buttigieg as he tries to enhance his name recognition and his leftist bona fides than a feud with Mike Pence? Of course, he wants that feud, one that he started. You’d have to be hopelessly naive to think otherwise.
It says something about the Democratic Party that Buttigieg’s religious-based authoritarian line enhances his political prospects, while his desire to rebuild slums and have a clean police chief may hurt them.