A 'terminal threat' to Trump's reelection: From false allegations to attacks on his religion, Republicans are going to great lengths to smear Pete Buttigieg
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been performing increasingly well in 2020 Democratic presidential polls, some of which have found him trailing only former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Politically, the 37-year-old Buttigieg is a rising star in the Democratic Party, and the fact that Republicans fear he could defeat President Donald Trump in 2020 if he wins the nomination is evident in everything from anti-gay demonstrations against him to attacks on his faith to a nasty smear campaign by conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman and far-right Internet troll Jacob Wohl.
In a report for the Daily Beast, reporters Lachlan Markay, Kevin Poulsen and Noah Shachtman describe the lengths that Burkman and Wolf, according to sources, have gone to in the hope of derailing Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. A Republican source, interviewed on condition of anonymity, is alleging that Burkman and Wohl tried to “convince him to falsely accuse Buttigieg” of “engaging him sexually while he was too drunk to consent.”
The GOP source told the Daily Beast that he didn’t want his name used in the article because Burkman and Wohl have a reputation for being vindictive. And he gave the reporters a secret recording of his meeting with them; in the recording, according to the Beast’s report, Wohl appears to describe Buttigieg as a “terminal threat” to Trump’s 2020 campaign. An expert in audio forensics examined the recording and confirmed to the Daily Beast that Wohl was one of the people speaking.
The Daily Beast is also reporting that the website Medium.com published, on Monday, a post from someone who was identified by the name Hunter Kelly and alleged that Buttigieg sexually assaulted him in February. But that post has been removed, and the Daily Beast spoke to a man believed to be Kelly—who posted on Facebook, in all caps, “I WAS NOT SEXUALLY ASSAULTED. It’s important for everyone to know that I was not sexually assaulted and would never falsely accuse anyone.”
Kelly added, “To keep it brief for now, I was approached by a political figure to come to D.C. to discuss political situations from the standpoint of a gay Republican. When I arrived, they discussed Peter Buttigieg and started talking about how they would be working a campaign against him. I went to bed and woke up to a fake Twitter @RealHunterKelly and an article that I in no way endorsed or wrote. I have since left and am working on a formal statement to give to everyone, including the Buttigieg family.”
Wohl has a reputation for being sleazy even by Republican standards. In 2018, Wohl promoted the false claim that special Counsel Robert Mueller had sexually assaulted a Los Angeles woman named Carolyne Cass in New York City in 2010. Butcwhen Cass was interviewed by USA Today, she said that Wohl had deceived her and falsely claimed to be an investigator named Matthew Cohen—and that the allegation against Mueller was a total fabrication.
Cass told USA Today that Wohl “made it up…. He completely lied to me.”
But Burkman and Wohl aren’t the only Republicans who have been going after Buttigieg with a vengeance. The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham and a major Trump supporter, has been urging Buttigieg to “repent” of his homosexuality and warning that he will experience “eternal damnation” if he doesn’t.
“God’s Word defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized,” Graham posted.
On the campaign trail, Buttigieg has been the target of protests by anti-gay activists and Christian fundamentalists. When he was in Iowa earlier this month, hecklers shouted anti-gay comments during a rally in Des Moines—and protestors in Marshalltown, Iowa staged a bizarre, goofy demonstration that depicted Buttigieg whipping Jesus while Satan cheered him on.
Some Republicans are so threatened by Buttigieg that they’re even going after his religion. Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, has been stressing that Republicans don’t have the market cornered on Christianity. And far-right blogger and radio host Erick Erickson took offense, posting on Twitter, “If Buttigieg thinks evangelicals should be supporting him instead of Trump, he fundamentally does not understand the roots of Christianity. But then, he is an Episcopalian; so, he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”
Far-right radio host Ben Shapiro has attacked Buttigieg’s faith as well, accusing him of “willy-nilly rewriting 3000 years of biblical history.”
But all the Republican attacks aren’t hurting Buttigieg’s popularity among Democrats. A CNN poll released on Tuesday found him in fourth place among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, with Biden in the lead, Sanders in second place and Sen. Elizabeth Warren moving into third place.