WASHINGTON, D.C. – Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh drew bipartisan criticism Thursday for saying the country won't elect Pete Buttigieg president because he's been “kissing his husband" on stage after debates.
Limbaugh's comments came eight days after President Donald Trump awarded him the nation's top civilian honor during the State of the Union address. Trump said Limbaugh inspires millions of people daily and thanked him for “decades of tireless devotion to our country."
Limbaugh, a staunch Trump ally who recently announced he has advanced lung cancer, made the remarks on his nationally syndicated radio show. Buttigieg has finished in the top two in Democrats' first two presidential contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“They're saying, ‘OK, how's this going to look?'" Limbaugh said Wednesday, imagining Democrats' thinking. “Thirty-seven-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage, next to Mr. Man, Donald Trump.'"
Buttigieg didn't directly address Limbaugh's remarks. But at a town hall in Las Vegas Thursday night, he said, “I’m proud of my marriage I’m proud of my husband.”
Limbaugh's remarks were the latest tendentious turn in a career in which he's won an adoring audience among millions of conservative listeners, but condemnation from others for comments considered racist, sexist and offensive.
Buttigieg, 38, is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and has been married to his husband, Chasten, since 2018. Buttigieg was a U.S. Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan, is a Harvard graduate and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England.
Limbaugh said he envisioned Democrats concluding that “despite all the great wokeness and despite all the great ground that's been covered, that America's still not ready to elect a gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage president."
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is challenging Buttigieg for the Democratic presidential nomination, assailed Limbaugh on ABC's “The View."
“I mean, my God,” said Biden, who called it “part of the depravity of this administration.” He added, “Pete and I are competitors, but this guy has honor, he has courage, he is smart as hell."
Trump, asked if Americans would vote for a gay man to be president, responded, “I think so.”
Still, Trump added: “I think there would be some that wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be among that group, to be honest with you." Trump spoke during an interview with Geraldo Rivera on Cleveland's Newsradio WTAM.
Some Capitol Hill Republicans said they disagreed with Limbaugh's remark, while others demurred.
“I'm just going to leave all that alone,” said conservative Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who said she'd not heard the comment. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, facing reelection this fall, also declined to comment.
“It’s a miscalculation as to where the country is at," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strong Trump supporter, told The Associated Press about Limbaugh's words. "I think the country is not going to disqualify somebody because of their sexual orientation.”
Asked if Limbaugh should retain the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Trump bestowed last week during his State of the Union address, Graham said, “Well, my God. Free speech still exists.“
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said of Limbaugh, “He may disagree, as I do, with their policy positions, but the question is what their qualifications are, not other issues.” Portman announced his support for gay marriage in 2013 as he revealed that his son Will is gay.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a moderate who is retiring in January, initially said he wasn't familiar with Limbaugh's remarks and declined to comment. His spokesman later emailed an Alexander statement that said: "There may be reasons not to vote for Mayor Buttigieg, but that’s not one of them. This is a tolerant country.”
A Buttigieg campaign spokesman declined to comment.
But the candidate has addressed criticism over his sexuality before. During a Des Moines, Iowa, rally in 2019, an audience member asked what he should tell his friends who say America isn't ready for a gay president. Buttigieg replied, “Tell your friends I said 'hi.'”
The former mayor has also framed his sexuality in religious terms.
"If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade," Buttigieg said. “If you've got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
According to government websites, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is for “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Past winners have included Mother Teresa, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frank Sinatra. Under Trump, the award's recipients have included golfer Tiger Woods, supply side economist Arthur Laffer and Edwin Meese III, who was a top aide to President Ronald Reagan.
The 69-year-old Limbaugh also said some Democrats may believe they should “get a gay guy kissing his husband on stage, ram it down Trump's throat and beat him in the general election. Really? Having fun envisioning that.”
Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”