If at the beginning of this year you would have asked me whether I would deem it possible for a gay man to be a serious contester for the U.S. presidency, I would have laughed, asked whether you were serious, and convincedly said no. Now, however I would have to think twice. A few months ago, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg did not even poll a single percent, now he’s in the top tier. Together with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete is among the top candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. How did a gay 37-year-old Christian Midwestern mayor rise so quickly in an extremely crowded Democratic field? During a Fox News town hall he received a standing ovation and afterwards was targeted by Republicans on social media. With still more than 200 days to go to the Iowa caucus, it is reasonable to ask: does he stand a chance?
One of the questions asked almost routinely when Buttigieg is welcomed to appear on a show, invited to a town hall or being interviewed, is whether the person in question has pronounced his name correctly. Where many of his competitors like Biden, Sanders and Warren have nation-wide name recognition, that is not at all the case for Buttigieg. With his unpronounceable name (say: Boot-edge-edge), the Harvard and Oxford grad is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of just overa100,000peopleofwhichhewas elected mayor in 2011. The son of a Maltese immigrant, and Notre Dame university professors, Buttigieg speaks seven languages and can politically be classified as part of the Christian- left, in the likes of Jimmy Carter, speaking often and openly about his faith. In 2014, Buttigieg took seven months off to serve in Afghanistan as lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve. During his re-election campaign in 2015 Buttigieg came out as gay. Since announcing his candidacy on April 14th, he – together with husband Chasten and dogs Buddy and Truman – has become a true role model.
As a Christian, an Episcopalian to be precise, his faith strongly influences his stances. Helping to keep him grounded, humility is at the centre of being Christian according to Buttigieg. He has challenged the GOP’s claimed monopoly on the evangelical voter, stating that the religious right’s interpretation of the Bible are in stark contrast to his. His understanding of scripture comes down to welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick and feeding the hungry. Speaking at the Victory Fund, a political action committee dedicated to grow the number of LGBTQ+ civil servants, about his coming out and the fact that there are still people who say being gay is a choice. He said: ”If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice made far, far above my pay grade.” Then, redirecting himself to Vice President Pence, saying: ”If you have a problem with who I am. Your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” Buttigieg also questioned the sincerity of Vice President Mike Pence’s religious beliefs, saying at a CNN town hall that he could not understand how Pence had become the ”cheerleader of the porn star presidency,” asking rhetorically whether the vice president ”stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump.”
Initially one of few Democrats – together with Senators Sanders and Gillibrand – to wholeheartedly say yestoappearingonaFoxNewstown hall, Buttigieg stressed the importance of reaching out to new voters, and how vital it is to engage with them in order to show what Democrats have to offer them. He also rebuked some of the network’s prime time anchors, calling out Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. TV host Chris Wallace asked Buttigieg how he would handle Trump’s Tweets, he replied, after a deep sigh: ”I don’t care,” and said the Democrats should focus on ”changing the channel from the show that he has created,” adding it attracts so much attention because ”it’s the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away,” making for a great wave of laughter. Getting criticised for a lack of policy plans and proposals, Buttigieg responded that Democrats should first explain their values and where they come from, before heading straight for the policy aspect of politics, explaining that policies should be extracted from the values political candidates hold.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, just after he launched his bid, he was – logically – questioned on a whole bunch of positions. In many aspects he is your typical progressive Democrat – he supports ‘Medicare for All,’ is pro-choice and supports the Green New Deal. When asked whether American capitalism works, he answered saying: ”it is the most productive economic force known to man, but we also know it can create massive economic inequality, and frankly it can destroy itself,” he continued explaining we would have to put in place ”wise constraints that make people free.” Although for many his age raises eyebrows, Buttigieg has made it clear that he has more government experience than President Trump, more executive experience than Vice President Pence, and ”more military experience than anybody who’s come into that office since George H.W. Bush.” He has a good story, people find him relatable, honest and authentic. Talking about student debt he mentioned the fact he and Chasten have six-figure student debt. His calm conduct and nuanced views give people a sense of safety and makes him come across as a unifier, someone who builds bridges.
Due to the fact that he is so exceptionally upfront about the issues that matter to voters, he resonates, he does not tiptoe around sensitive issues. Buttigieg has in fact been very frank when addressing the economic decline of the industrial Midwest, noting that those jobs are just not coming back and that investments should be made to send those who lost their jobs as a consequence back to school. On June 9th, at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame event Buttigieg said: ”Democrats can no more promise a return to the ’90s than Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the ’50s.” At the Fox News town hall, Buttigieg marked this era of American history we live in today as ”one of those blank pages in between chapters,” what shapes the context in which his structural reforms should be seen – abolishing the electoral college and expanding the U.S. Supreme Court to fifteen judges.
As of now, taking into account all 24 major Democratic presidential candidates who are fighting for their party’s nomination, Buttigieg is doing well – rising rapidly in the polls. In Iowa, he is virtually tying Sanders and Warren among probable caucus-goers. And Buttigieg is making it difficult for Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and former congressman from Texas Beto O’Rourke, who were expected to do well among Midwestern voters, to gain traction. In New Hampshire, after Iowa the second test during the primary season, he is tying Sanders – who won the White Mountain State in 2016 – for second place. Though at first, he seemed to have a problem with African-American voters, a South Carolina poll had him up 8 points from zero percent in May, which may be a good sign. And as we speak, Warren and Buttigieg are increasing their share amongst potential primary voters, whereas Biden and Sanders are dropping in the polls.
”In a lifetime of following politics, the only time I have heard as excited a reaction to a campaign as I heard today about Pete Buttigieg’s launch was Barack Obama in 2008 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Yes, it’s very early, but the reaction had been remarkable.”– MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough
Maybe 2016 is too late, maybe 2020 is too early, whatever will happen, Buttigieg is a major player in this race. A dark horse, an underdog, but he may be the one to watch. Buttigieg might be the president America needs. The question is whether the United States is ready and deserving of the mayor from fly-over country, as Buttigieg himself put it, to be the 46th President of the United States of America. If though, he succeeds at securing the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in July of next year, I will be there to help bring this man to the White House.