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Pete Buttigieg’s recent ascent over the dwindling Beto O’Rourke largely has been attributed to his claim to diversity—a combination of “Midwest nice” with a gay identity. The South Bend, Indiana mayor also raised $7 million in the first quarter and picked up the monied base of donors from both the Clinton and Obama campaigns.
Democratic elites, it seems, have found a candidate who embodies their kind of diversity, which, to quote Darel Paul, involves “creativity, cosmopolitanism, authenticity, toleration, and the reward of merit.” Buttigieg is a white professor’s kid, happily partnered to a man, a speaker of seven languages, a Rhodes scholar, and a faithful attendee of a premier Wasp-ocratic institution: the Episcopalian Church.
The Buttigieg recipe, as it goes, satisfies both upper middle-class suburbanites and the “woke” identity base of Democratic coalition minorities. Being an open homosexual let’s all minorities know that Pete is with them. Vanilla liberals know that he is just like them too—educated, safe, and upper-middle class.
The problem for Buttigieg, however, is the broader public purchase of his diverse identity. Part of the winning strategy for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 was his ability to bring African Americans out in droves—a repeat that failed to materialize for Hillary Clinton and is even less likely for Buttigieg.
Minority groups may always vote for the Democratic Party. But the degree to which they vote for Democrats can make a world of difference. African Americans, for instance, proved themselves to be a key demographic in the 2008 and 2012 elections. While a majority of blacks still came out in 2016, their lack of overall enthusiasm helped lose Hillary Clinton the election.
A key case study is Wisconsin. When Obama won the state in 2012, black turnout was at 74 percent, while in 2016 it fell to 55 percent. No wonder Obama was visiting Milwaukee during the 2018 midterm season! Had 2016 stayed consistent with 2012 levels, as the Center for American Progress forecasted, it would have meant a narrow Clinton victory.
In 2016, expected Democratic turnout from African Americans was down 8.9 percent in Florida, 13.7 percent in Ohio. Throw in a 6.7 percent decline in Pennsylvania and a 7.6 drop in Michigan, and you have a Trump victory in all four of the key swing states.
This Wisconsin trend persists throughout the country. In fact, the black male turnout nationwide in 2016 was down 22 percent from 2012.
Pew research indicated a nationwide decline in black turnout from 66.6 percent to 59.6 percent. Since blacks were less enthusiastic about Hillary than they were for Obama, the urban areas of every key swing state were simply overrun by the countryside vote.
If you think that black enthusiasm for a white liberal grandma was a tough sell, imagine what it could look like for an equally waspy man emphasizing his homosexual identity. The numbers continue to show that blacks do not celebrate gay rights with the fervor that is expected of them.
In 2017, Pew released a revealing study about how gay marriage has been received by Americans. Divided out by race, 63 percent of whites now support same-sex marriage, while only 51 percent of African Americans do. This means that for every majority black district Buttigieg goes to visit, about 50 percent of the audience will find his circumstance off-putting, even in tension with their religious beliefs.
Couple this 50-50 opinion on homosexuality with the fact that Buttigieg has lived the “whitest” life imaginable, and he might have a serious problem rallying the black vote. He might even have a difficult time emerging from the primaries without significant black support.
If Buttigieg proceeds, he likely will do several things to compensate for his unique challenge. Foremost among them will be proving himself an exceptionally aggressive “ally” to minorities. In practice, he would likely keep doing what he’s doing now, with a pinch more Kamala Harris: showing he’s with them with creative displays of white-guy groveling. Though, showing these fides will still be tough, given his controversial 1,000 new homes policy, and the fact that Buttigieg fired South Bend’s black chief of police.
Mayor Pete will continue to pledge fealty to social justice nostrums about “racial reconciliation,” pander on supposed institutional racism, and promise financial reparations for slavery, even if doing so risks hurting his image of “Midwest nice.”
Democratic leadership must come to terms with the fact that gay diversity is really just their form of diversity, a diversity that is safe for liberal whites, perhaps because they would rather not live near minorities. Liberals seem to have found a way to compensate for this tension by embracing LGBT politics.
Nevertheless, Buttigieg’s problem stands. If enough of the minority coalition sees Buttigieg as a privileged fraud, this otherwise vanilla Democrat with a touch of gay will struggle to win the nomination, much less turn out those needed to win a general election.
Photo Credit: Scott Eisen/Getty Images