Pete Buttigieg Says Dems Did Not Coordinate to Seal Biden’s Primary Win
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
A military deployment led him to come out — and become the most competitive gay candidate to ever run for U.S. president.
By Nick Fouriezos
Former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg sat for a revealing interview with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation.
What led him to come out in his 30s
Pete Buttigieg: The thing that put me over the edge was the deployment. The truth was, I didn’t really feel how much I was missing in life not having a romantic life once I’d reached the point in my 20s where I knew that dating women was not going to work for me, but I wasn’t prepared to come out. I was so busy being mayor that it just filled my days, and then I had this experience as a mayor, I was deployed because I was also a reservist. I sat down as you do when you go to a war zone, and I had to write a letter to … it literally says “Just in case.” That’s still in my desk drawer.
Obviously, thankfully, that letter never needed to be opened, but I wrote that letter that tells your loved ones what you want them to know. And actually I didn’t write about being gay there either, but I wrote about how full of a life I’d had, and yet I realized certainly by the time I left and absolutely by the time I came back that I’m in my 30s, I’m in a position of responsibility, I’m the mayor of a city, I’ve been to war and back, I’m a grown-ass man with no idea what it’s like to fall in love.
The idea that I could have lost my life halfway around the world and gone to my grave not knowing what it was like to be in love, I just realized that was no way to live.
Lessons learned from running for president
Buttigieg: It’s almost an out-of-body experience. It’s hard to describe it. When you’re in it, you’re just going. You don’t even have time to reflect.
You would begin to notice that there was sometimes a little daylight between the things that commentators would ask you about the most and the things that voters would ask you about the most.
I found that the press was usually more interested in drama among Democrats, the kind of blow-by-blow, the horse race. If there was one issue that I heard way more about from voters than from reporters, it was mental health. I heard about that everywhere I went.
The most touching things were the encounters I would have … when a kid with so much on the line quietly comes out to you while shaking your hand, passes you a note, and you’re just thinking about what that kid might be up against.
What he would have done differently
Buttigieg: Afterward, you think of a million things you’d wish you’d known on day one or done differently. We had a brilliant team that figured out often with duct tape and chicken wire in the early days how to get things up and running. But we really needed in particular to work to introduce me to constituencies that were skeptical of newcomers. And that I had to really explain who I was and what I was about, especially when I’m thinking about Southern Black voters who had seen politicians come and go, often being taken for granted in our party.
If I had it to do over again, I would’ve had more voices from right here in South Bend, Black voices in particular, on the trail with me, because if I had gotten the same support in South Carolina from Black voters that I did from Black voters in South Bend, who knows, we might have won.
Did the Democrats coordinate to endorse Biden this spring, after dropping out?
Carlos Watson: I felt like if it had just been one person, I don’t know if it would have been as impactful, but I felt like that combined endorsement was, in my mind, the most impactful endorsement I’d seen in politics, second only to Oprah Winfrey backing the young Barack Obama. I thought in modern politics, that was the most impactful in terms of it actually shifted the course, I think, of the outcome. Did you guys coordinate that once you had decided, or how did that work?
Buttigieg: No, there was no room or even a round of phone calls to coordinate it all, other than that of course we wanted to coordinate with the Biden campaign how to make sure that I shared my endorsement in the right way. But what I do think was probably going on is a lot of us going through the same process at the same time. And it’s a tough place to be.
You think, well, how do I use that for the most good? … And I do think it was very powerful for so many of us to speak out really within a couple of days, or even within hours of each other, and say that we felt it was time for the party to come together behind Joe Biden and put all our energy into getting him into the White House and defeating Donald Trump.
On being the first serious gay presidential contender
Buttigieg: Obviously, we knew it would be on a lot of people’s minds, and we knew it would present some unique challenges, and saw that from some of my first campaign appearances, where there were anti-LGBT demonstrators intervening in events. And it’s one thing if there are demonstrators because they disagree with you on a policy. It’s another because they just disagree with, they can’t accept what you are.
And at the same time, what I found was that this fact about our campaign was actually part of what made it empowering for a lot of people. And I think by being able to talk about the search and the struggle for belonging and the particular version of it that I lived, it actually helped us reach a lot of other people who maybe had something else on their mind. I think it helped us connect, not to compare struggles, they’re all different, but to connect with a lot of different people who are in that struggle for belonging in some way, shape or form.
The balance for me was I didn’t set out to be the gay president or the president of the gay United States. I wanted to be a president and a candidate for everyone. And at the same time, I knew it was important to speak to my identity and my experience. And I was excited for the country to get to know Chasten, who was somebody who, my husband, who a lot of people fall in love with. And I think it really drew a lot of people to our campaign too. The most touching things were the encounters I would have, sometimes with kids, teenagers, who would barely be able to speak when they met me, or sometimes would confide in me something they hadn’t told others, and feeling that responsibility when a kid with so much on the line quietly comes out to you while shaking your hand, passes you a note, and you’re just thinking about what that kid might be up against.
Up next: fatherhood
Watson: Do you plan on being a dad?
Buttigieg: Yeah, we do. We’re taking steps in that direction, and I’m excited. A little scared by that too. It’s an enormous responsibility, but excited about the possibility and excited to see Chasten be a father too.
Watson: And what kind of dad would Mayor Pete be? Are you a dad on TikTok? Are you a dad who’s stern? What kind of dad should we expect you to be?
Buttigieg: I’d like to think I’d be the cool dad. I’m sure the reverse is true, but I think I’ll just focus on hopefully being a good one.