Beginning at 34:32 of the video below, Bill Maher discusses Pete Buttigieg's presidential prospects with journalist Matt Taibbi and Lis Smith, who worked on Barack Obama's 2012 campaign and was senior adviser to Pete Buttigieg's 2020 presidential campaign. Smith still believes strongly in the former South Bend, Ind. mayor and argued
If you look at his polling numbers, he'd doing extremely well... No, I'm talking about his more recent ones and the more people who get to know him naturally, he has the highest approval rating of anyone in the Biden Administration.
Unconvinced, Maher responded
I'm just saying every time there is a picture of drag queen story hour, I don't think Pete likes it because what he's thinking is "O.K. This is a new thing to a lot of Americans- gay marriage- again, we've never had a gay President (that we know of). I mean I heard rumors about Buchanan but, yeah, so this, you know, you got to tread a little gingerly and I think what it looks like to him as a clever politician is like "O.K., can we just cool it a little on this because people are trying to get used to this and I'm trying to win election in states that are already a little wary about the Democrats.
For a third perspective, Taibbi countered with
I would argue that the issue with Pete Buttigieg and I covered his campaign a little the last time isn't about sexuality, it's about class. I remember seeing him in Keene, New Hampshire and it was the first time I'd seen him campaign and as you mention, he's got incredible political skills. If you see him in person, you'll have this thought "wow, this guy is going to be president someday. He's so quick, he's accessible, seemingly, and then I went outside and interviewed a bunch of people from Keene and if you know what New England townies are like. They were like, "that guy's fuckin' weird," you know. And the Democrats just have too many of these sort of McKinsey Ivy league types.... There aren't enough people who know how to talk....
Like normal, working-class white Americans, he meant, and there is a little to what he says. Ron DeSantis is a product of Yale and of Harvard Law School but- lucky for him- he seems like the everyday, normal, almost likable jerk at the end of the bar. It serves him well. Democrats do seem to most voters to be smart, maybe too smart for their own political good.
Native New Englanders and other Americans don't see Pete Buttigieg and think "oh no, McKinsey!" Though Buttigieg served in the military in Afghanistan, people don't see the fellow and think "thank you for your service, soldier." That's unfair to the former mayor, but voters can be unfair.
Of course, those townies Taibbi cites said Buttigieg is "weird." These folks were probably aware that Taibbi is a left-wing journalist but had no reason to know that he is a long-time, committed heterosexual. It would be in bad taste, maybe even rude and definitely stupid, for them to say "fag." (For readers aghast at use of the word "fag," know that many years ago, it was used interchangeably for "queer," the latter a word approvingly appropriated by the gay left.)
Pete Buttigieg may have been a brave soldier and even be "tough" in ways the likes of Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and other Republicans may not comprehend. However, he seems like nothing of the sort, and politics is a game of images. People look at him and think: a little, passive, gay secretary.
And, yes, secretary, and not in a good way. A dirty little secret: one of the several factors in Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016 was that she was not identified as Senator (a respected one, at that) Clinton but as Secretary Clinton. And whatever their virtues and values, secretaries are not thought of as presidential timber.
Pete Buttigieg is now Secretary of Treasury and were he to run for President, probably would be referred to as "Secretary Buttigieg." Voters would find it easy to think of him as a secretary. Republicans would make sure of that, and the media would not disabuse them of the notion.
Though he'd probably be a very bad general election candidate, Secretary Buttigieg could possibly get a Democratic nomination for President, assuming he shored up his standing with the African-American establishment in the Party. Here, too, though, he would be a small gay guy. And if he's more accepted by the black street than the white street, things have changed more in these United States than- well, more than we have any reason to believe they have.