CNN political commentator defends Rush Limbaugh's anti-LGBTQ bigotry toward Pete Buttigieg

Jim Sciutto to Ben Ferguson: “It seems to me you're justifying bigotry”

Video file

Citation From the February 13, 2020, edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom

POPPY HARLOW (CO-ANCHOR): Ben Ferguson is with us, CNN political commentator, conservative radio host. You know, Ben, your reaction? 

BEN FERGUSON (CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR): Look, I don't think it matters that he's gay. I think the thing you're talking about here is two different issues. One, is anybody going to look masculine next to Donald Trump on stage? I think the only Democrat out there would be Joe Biden. Do I think it should matter on the issue of his sexuality? No. Now, I do think and I talked about this on my radio show literally yesterday with only Democrats calling in, does it matter that he is an openly gay man? There was a surprising number of Democratic voters that said that it was an issue for them, the same way we saw that lady try to take back her vote in Iowa after she voted and found out that Mayor Pete was gay. Now for me personally, I have no problem with him being a gay man. I can debate him on the issues, it has nothing to do with sexuality. And the reality here, I think is what Limbaugh was talking about, and again the way he said it is different than I would obviously say it. He's saying there are Democrats that are sitting there worried that this is going to be a bigger issue just like we saw in California when gay marriage was overturned by voters in a liberal state. 

JIM SCIUTTO (CO-ANCHOR):  OK. Take a moment there.


SCIUTTO: Let me just take issue with your premise. What's more manly, volunteering for military service, as Pete Buttigieg did, or avoiding it?

FERGUSON: Look, I'm talking about appearance here. I was with the president last week in the Oval and I promise you he looked more masculine next to me than I did, and I consider myself to be a pretty masculine guy. We're talking about appearance here.

SCIUTTO: What about the substance, though? What about the substance? 

FERGUSON: Substance in what category do you mean by substance? 

SCIUTTO: I'm saying you said the president appears more manly for, I don't know what reason. And I'm citing an issue of the record here. Buttigieg volunteered for military service, the president took great pains to avoid it. I'm talking about the substance. Which is more manly? 

FERGUSON: Look, I think serving your country is something that's a great thing and I think that is something Mayor Pete will be able to use to his advantage. And I think it's something he's going to be able to challenge the president if he gets the nomination on. But if you asked 100 Democratic voters which candidate looked more masculine, Joe Biden or Mayor Pete, I think they'd probably say Joe Biden. We've got to be -- let's be honest about this. 

HARLOW: Can I please, Ben please can I turn the conversation to -- I don't understand in what world is the definition of qualification for being president of the United States how manly someone appears.

SCIUTTO: There's also that. 

FERGUSON: I didn't say, I did not say it was a qualification, but going back to what Limbaugh was talking about, when you put two different candidates on stage and there are people that make millions of dollars on both sides of the aisle that talk about what you wear for goodness sakes. Men and women, what you say --

HARLOW: Well, we don't. 

FERGUSON: How you talk, how you laugh.

HARLOW: We don't. 

FERGUSON: I'm talking about political campaign operatives, OK? People that are working for presidential campaigns for governor campaigns, you look at every aspect of your candidate. And then you try to make them turn into something that is perfect for the voters' palate. We've been doing this for decades. And I think the point that Limbaugh was making was you have a president, OK, regardless of -- go back to military service -- that is a very masculine guy. You have Mayor Pete that comes across -- 

SCIUTTO: Claims to be. 

FERGUSON: An academic, a very, very smart academic. You put Joe Biden on stage, next to the president of the United States of America -- I think the masculinity issue goes away. 

SCIUTTO: Ben, I've known you a long time. Listen, it seems to me you're justifying bigotry here. 

FERGUSON: Not at all. 

SCIUTTO: Are you not? Because here's the thing. People -- consultants might have said it's a negative to be a person of color. You might have heard that. This is the year 2020. I'm just curious what you're justifying here. 

FERGUSON: Or it could be a huge asset like it was for Barack Obama. What I'm saying is, and we have to be honest about campaigns here. There are certain things that play to certain people. A great example is what you brought up with military service for Mayor Pete. That's going to play huge to them. If you are a political advocate, a political person working for him, you're going to say you've got to talk about that more. That's going to play very well with the American people. 

HARLOW: Ben, we have to go. We'll keep talking about it. We're waiting to see if the president responds to this at all. I just think it's important to quote the president in May when asked about this on Fox News. He said about Mayor Buttigieg's sexuality, "I think something -- people will have a problem with it, but I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it's good." So the question is going to become, does he change? Does that change? 

FERGUSON: I don't think he will. 

HARLOW: Thank you, Ben. 

SCIUTTO: We'll see.