Anti-LGBT protesters interrupted a Pete Buttigieg speech in Iowa with homophobic chants, but panelists on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" said the Democratic presidential candidate's reaction -- and the ensuing coverage -- marked an important turning point.
Hecklers interrupted the openly gay South Bend mayor by shouting "Sodom and Gomorrah!" at one event in Des Moines, and Buttigieg deftly brushed the demonstrator aside.
“The good news is," he said, "the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa Caucuses are up to you."
Co-host Mika Brzezinski said Buttigieg would be an awfully formidable opponent to Republicans, who she predicted would flail in their attacks.
"He exposed hate with love," Brzezinski said. "He did it beautifully, pastorally, he did it in a way that made you want to be there with him. I'm going to tell you, as much as the Republicans completely misunderstood Barack Obama, and had no idea how to handle an African-American Democratic nominee, they will not be able to handle this guy, because he is truly working from a good center and has the words and education and the articulation and the grounding to express it to people who even don't understand him."
"It's called depth," she added. "It's called moral compass, it's called faith, it's called love for America. He is going to be very hard to handle, if they try to take him on for something he is absolutely not embarrassed about. In fact, he embraces who he is, and he embraces his god. this is the bottom line, the fact that that protester and Republicans might have been watching, thinking, this is the moment he goes down, because everyone will expose his -- no."
Co-host Willie Geist said the episode showed just how far the U.S. had come in recent years on LGBT civil rights, and he said the protesters felt like relics from the past.
"The chant we heard, about Sodom and Gomorrah, is like a chant from a different time," Geist said.
Geist said a recent poll showed 70 percent of all Americans -- not just Democrats -- said they were comfortable with a gay presidential candidate, and other panelists agreed the hecklers were unlikely to dent his growing support.
"It's not a story, it's a side note to who he is," said MSNBC contributor Elise Jordan.
Jordan, who served in the White House under George W. Bush, said the episode showed just how much the political debate had changed about LGBT rights in a matter of years.
"That moment makes me proud of our country because you do realize how far we've come," she said. "Just from the early 2000s until now, when it comes to equal rights for all Americans. I think that the fact that we have a strong contender for the Democratic candidacy for president who is openly gay and proud of it, and wants everyone to accept it as a non-issue, as it should be, it should not be an issue, and is so easily deflecting that kind of hate, it is just an impressive moment, I think, for our country."