With the impeachment inquiry raising the possibility of Vice President Mike Pence elevating to the Oval Office, Pete Buttigieg talked about what to expect.
“Nothing good,” the Democratic presidential candidate said of a Pence presidency.
Buttigieg was speaking to a friendly crowd at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on the Upper West Side, as he answered questions for about 90 minutes with New Yorker editor David Remnick as part of The New Yorker Festival.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, talked of working with Pence when he was governor of the state, and while they worked together on some issues like economic development, he found that Pence “believes things that are completely fanatical. He really believes.” He was referring to Pence’s religious and social conservatism.
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But he said he’s had a tough time squaring that with Pence’s support of Trump.
When Pence joined the ticket, “it raised the question of, What is left in there?” Buttigieg said.
When Remnick asked Buttigieg whether Pence “sold his soul to the devil” to run with Trump, Buttigieg replied, “I was surprised. But I guess at the end of the day it was his ticket to relevancy. They needed each other.”
He also said he believes that if Trump resigns or is removed from office, it will accelerate the decline of the Republican party.
“The president’s flaws help distract from the fundamental flaws” of the Republican agenda, he said, like the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves and the belief that man-made climate change isn’t real.
“We will have only that and none of the dazzle and chaos of this presidency,” he said.
Asked if Trump’s “political goose” was cooked, given the impeachment inquiry, Buttigieg said it “depends on the conscience of Senate Republicans.”
Buttigieg himself avoided a question of whether he himself would consider being a No. 2 on a ticket next year, bluntly saying he would “ignore” answering it.
Even some of Buttigieg’s own supporters say he would be a good potential running mate, particularly as Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren top the latest polls.
When Remnick pointed out that Buttigieg was getting zero percent support among African-American voters in some early state polls, the candidate said the race was still fluid. “Only one candidate has a commanding lead among black voters,” meaning Biden, Buttigieg said, before making some sarcasm of the idea that it is because Biden has a “masterful command” of the issues facing those voters.
He also took a swipe at the idea that what voters want is a return to normalcy — one of the implicit messages of Biden’s campaign.
“If your vision is ‘back to normal,’ then you are going to have a real problem where I came from because normal didn’t work,” he said.
He went on to criticize some of the policy prescriptions of candidates farther to the left, like the Medicare for All proposals. He favors a plan he calls Medicare for All Who Want It, a mix of private insurance and a public option.
“I also think it requires a certain degree of humility in how to get it done,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg, the first openly gay man to run for the Democratic nomination, touched on some of his own personal story of coming out relatively late, when he was in his early 30s and already mayor of the Midwest city.
“I had no idea what it was like to be in love,” he said. “When a love song comes on the radio, and I am trying to relate to it, I am just extrapolating. I realized that was no way to keep going.”
He said that after CNN’s LGBTQ town hall on Thursday, he reflected on the fact that there was a time in his life when he thought coming out would be the “one thing” that would sideline his career in public service. “Talk about God having a sense of humor,” he quipped.
As he has campaigned, he said many people have shared their own stories with him of coming out, sometimes in very emotional terms.
He said that includes older men and women who would talk about what it would have been like, as a teenager, to see an openly gay man run for president.
“It is not unusual for someone to come up to me, in an airport or on the street, and begin to cry and not get a word out,” Buttigieg said, calling it a “beautiful thing”
“To me that outweighs all the bullshit you have to deal with,” Buttigieg said.
Asked by Remnick was that “bullshit” is, Buttigieg replied, “Well, there is some mail that I could do without.”
“Do you have a favorite letter that you like?” Remnick asked.
“Nope,” Buttigieg said.
He added, “When someone protests you just for existing, it is, come on. Especially when the decision was made very far above my pay grade.”
Asked about the process he went through in deciding to run for president, Buttigieg said his husband Chasten was initially skeptical about the idea.
“We love our marriage, and coming into the second year of marriage, [running for president] is a tough, tough thing to do,” Buttigieg said.
Remnick replied, “Just wait.”