Most people have never heard of Pete Buttigieg – and even fewer might know how to pronounce his name. But he's not only the mayor of South Bend, Indiana - he's been called “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of” by The Washington Post. And none other than President Barack Obama met with the 36-year-old Harvard grad, considering him one of the Democratic Party's potential nominees in the 2020 presidential election.
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What is it about Pete Buttigieg (whose name is of Maltese origin and pronounced "boot-edge-edge")?
He spoke with Powerhouse Politics podcast hosts Rick Klein and MaryAlice Parks right after the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – and the small-city mayor weighed in on the biggest foreign policy story going.
“This president seems committed to talking to our enemies but seems to have a little more trouble talking to our friends,” the mayor told Klein and Parks. “I'm not totally convinced that the United States has a foreign policy right now.”
Buttigieg expressed skepticism about Kim's recently proclaimed commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, explaining that the dictator's move reflects previous claims made by North Korea in the 1990s, which ultimately fell through.
“I'm having a hard time figuring out what we got in exchange for legitimizing the North Korean regime. We've put an American flag next to a North Korean flag and basically treated a dictator like an equal.”
Despite his age, Pete Buttigieg has a lengthy resume. He has served as the mayor of South Bend – a Rust Belt city about 150 miles from Indianapolis – since 2012. Two years after taking office, Buttigieg traded South Bend for Afghanistan, where he put in seven months as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve.
Before beginning his career in public service, the mayor received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and was later awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 2004. Buttigieg is also openly gay.
While he wasn't asked "the 2020" question directly, he was asked whether a hypothetical mayor of a city of 100,000 could go directly from that to national office – to running for the presidency – or whether there should be a stop in between.
"Well, I think in 2020 we're going to find out which of the rules of politics still apply and which ones have been broken forever. You know the president of the United States is basically a game show host. So I think any traditional answer...about paths to power in this country have at least been suspended if not done away with forever," Buttigieg said.
When asked if Democrats should run on the promise of impeaching President Trump if they take back the congressional majority in the midterm elections, the Indiana politician advised his party to focus on other issues even though he believes that Trump “may very well deserve to be impeached.”
“We should be able to talk about where we see this country going first...before focusing on where we see this president going,” Buttigieg said. “Frankly, I'd much rather see him removed by the American people through the democratic process...That's what's really going to decisively send Trumpism into the dustbin of history and allow even the Republican Party to get to a healthier place.”
The South Bend mayor highlighted how candidates’ emphasis on the White House has led constituents to feel side-stepped or ignored, pointing to discussions he has had with voters in his state.
“We've got to stop behaving as if this president is all that matters,” Buttigieg explained. “The Democratic Party lost a thousand legislative seats across the country in Congress state legislatures during the last decade. If we can't reverse that, it's not going to matter who the president is. We are going to be defeated constantly on the most important issues that we care about.”
Buttigieg, however, still believes that the Democratic Party has a “straightforward and winning message.”
“We are a party that exists to support people going through everyday life,” he stated. “There’s a really strong bench [of Democrats] that...has been waiting for a long time to be called out onto the field.”
Simply said, Buttigieg insists that: “It's got to be the voter, not the president.”