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The Axe Files
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), South Bend, Indiana, Presidential Candidate, Is Interviewed On The Triumphs And Challenges Of His Presidential Campaign. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired July 13, 2019 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on THE AXE FILES, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg on the triumphs and challenges of his Presidential campaign.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST: You had zero percent among African-American voters. How do you fix that and can you win if you don't?
ANNOUNCER: What he sees as a potential danger for Democrats.
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But if we look like all we have to say is, let's go back to normal, there's going to be a lot of people who feel like normal has not worked for them for decades.
ANNOUNCER: And why he believes he has the temperament to take on Trump.
BUTTIGIEG: It's been observed that that Americans often go with the opposite of whatever we just had.
AXELROD: Yes, I know someone who said that.
BUTTIGIEG: So sometimes known as axis theory of opposites.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to THE AXE FILES.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, good to see you here in South Bend in the old Studebaker plant where you announced your candidacy. I think it's fair to say that as this year begun, people would - outside of South Bend would not be able to recognize your name, much less pronounce it and this -- this has been quite a rocket ride for you.
You just improbably turned in one of the biggest fundraising quarters in Democratic Party history. Do you have a step back and say, how the hell did this happen?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, there's not that much time to step back but when I do, it is extraordinary. Obviously, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe we could win, believe in our message and believe in the campaign but our plan was to have a slow burn, to try to assert that we belonged in the race, period. Over the spring into the summer and then hope to break out in the debates. What we found instead is that the message caught fire early. Now the challenge for us is to make sure that we really reaching everybody with it and that we have the kind of ground organization it takes to actually win.
AXELROD: It's a high class problem.
BUTTIGIEG: It's a great problem to have. We started out with four people in a tiny office here in South Bend at the beginning of this year and now we're around a couple hundred and growing fast.
AXELROD: You were sort of a sensation in March and April. It's been a little more rugged going lately. Your poll numbers have dropped a little. Is there any concern that hey I got to win next winter and I don't want to win March and April of the year before?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, you definitely don't want to have your best moments too early in the race but what we've seen is you know, we arrived in in a kind of very swift fashion and now we've carved out a place in the leading group but in order to stay there, we got earn that, we've got to earn it every day.
AXELROD: You wrote in your book here, you talk about your running for mayor as a 29-year old, "The reason to run, the ideal reason to seek any job was clear, the city's needs matched what I had to offer." What about you matches this moment and the presidency of the United States?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think we've got a moment where the country needs something new. It needs an answer to these changes that are accelerating, that are getting away from a lot of Americans. They have people in communities like mine wondering whether there's a place for them in the future which is one of the reasons why the President came along, selling a certain message which was I'm going to turn back the clock and nothing's going to change at all.
That message is false but we've got to have one that is just as responsive to that sense of turn without making an impossible promise to turn back the clock. My story is that if somebody who belongs to the generation that has so much at stake in whether we can resolve economic change and master it to make it work for us, whether we can resolve climate change, whether we can deliver racial equality in our time.
And I also come from the region that has struggled the most with these kinds of changes and the region that my own party the Democratic Party has lately struggled to connect with in a way that helped lead to this presidency.
I'm a product of the times that we're living in. I'm a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. I think all of these things plus the experience that I've had on the ground, guiding a city up against colossal challenges adds up to a different package of experience and a different messenger but also a different message than any of the others are offering. AXELROD: You're 37 years old. You're two years over the constitutional minimum for serving as President and you obviously feel that's a virtue.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, very much so I think you're seeing it around the world actually, there are a lot of leaders from El Salvador to France to New Zealand who have been part of this generation, would be the same age or younger than I would be taking office in 2021.
And ordinarily the arrival of a new generation of leadership is the kind of thing that America leads. Right now, it seems like we're playing catch up but I do see on the trail - by the way, not just among younger voters but among voters of all ages a desire to bring forward new voices.
BUTTIGIEG: Because when I get to the age of the current President in the 2050s, my generation's going to be held to account for whether we tackled these issues in these years that that are coming upon us right now.
AXELROD: Implicit in that is that the President won't be here in 2050 perhaps has less of a stake in that. You've got two opponents who are older than he is. Should age be an issue for them?
BUTTIGIEG: I think that any candidate of any age can put forward a compelling message and be a great President but I do think that come with these issues differently because I do have personal expectations, lord willing of being around in the years when we're going to know whether or not the actions we took right now 2019-2020-2021 got the job done on protecting our future economy from climate change.
Whether we got the job done on having a rising tide actually lift all boats which is not happened for most Americans and if we don't act now to resolve that, then the entire balance of my adult life will be spent in a period of decline and despair for this country.
When actually we have the possibility of having our best moments yet as a country.
AXELROD: In a certain way it feels like your energy has gotten out ahead of your ideas on this one. We still haven't really heard that sort of big economic package, that big clarifying idea about how you're going to achieve this.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I've tried to be very clear on where I stand on every important issue of our time, including economics.
AXELROD: So what's the most important thing to do to make good on that promise, to these folks who have been on the other side of that digital divide? What is the promise for them?
BUTTIGIEG: It's two sets of things. The first that is deceptively simple. It's things like making sure people get paid more, we need to raise the minimum wage. Sometimes we think of these convoluted policy mechanisms to solve what we think are complicated problems.
It's why minimum wage needs to go above $15 --
AXELROD: But this is an idea that every Democratic candidate supports --
AXELROD: So it's not uniquely yours.
BUTTIGIEG: So this brings me to the more complicated ideas but I do think it's important to recognize that most Democrats agree on a lot of these ideas and it's OK. The question then becomes you know, what kind of messenger can deliver those in a way that keeps our focus on what's actually at hand versus getting diverted into talking about the President so much that we're not talking about you.
Now, there are other things you aren't hearing about as much from other campaigns, part of that is the extent to which our benefits system needs to be decoupled from this system we have now that still pretty much assumes that you're going to have the same career or even the same employer for your whole working life.
That is not true for most people in my generation, anybody younger than me. That has some very specific implications in economic policy. For example, when we're talking about how you accrue retirement savings or unemployment insurance or various benefits from health to family leave, we are also going to be very creative economically in making sure that the way we support not just jobs but workers adds up in the 21st century.
And we also need I think to be much more intentional and specific in our plans for black Americans. That's why I proposed the Douglass Plan that ought to be as ambitious as the Marshall Plan in Europe. It needs to have specificity in intention.
AXELROD: Let's stop right there because one of things that happens is you know, one of the distinctions you earned when you become a hot candidate is greater scrutiny and that has happened with you and a lot of it has been around this issue of race.
Yes, I remember watching your announcement from this room and I was struck by the fact that in a city that is 40 percent black and Hispanic, you had 5,000 people, there were very few faces of color in this room and this has come back recently because of a tragic police involved shooting here of a black man that is still murky under investigation.
It's stirred the community and some of that anger was directed at you. These are issues for you.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, of course and when you're in charge, you bear responsibility for everything that happens, good or bad on your watch. I can point to the success we've had in reducing the poverty rate but they're also a lot of areas where I can't claim that we've solved the problem. I think the important thing is to recognize that this is happening in the context of patterns of exclusion that are economic as well as across health education.
AXELROD: And national.
BUTTIGIEG: And justice and national.
AXELROD: But here's my question, you're a data guy. The - if you look at the number of black police officers going from 25 to 13 on your watch, if you look at minority business enterprises and contracting the city less than one percent, aren't those warning signs for people?
AXELROD: Does - don't - those are things that should be under your control.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, some of these things are incredibly challenging and in the recruiting is a good example. So it's not like we are just now coming awake to the problem of hiring and retaining black officers on the police department. We actually started publishing our own data so that everybody could look in and see how many applicants, we are tracking, attracted in the first place and where we lose them along the way.
We've conducted job fairs. I've stood in front of the cameras pleading with community members to help more people apply and then the help try to help make sure they succeed. Now we're not the only community facing a racial gap in police recruitment and retention to.
The profession as a whole has become harder to attract people to and that's even more true in many cities including mine when it comes to minority recruitment. So I'll own up to the fact that we have--
AXELROD: Having of the numbers, it's six percent the entire force. 25 percent, 24 - 25 percent of the population is after. What about on the minority contracting because you're talking about, you're making speeches and I know you believe deeply in them about boosting minority entrepreneurship around the country.
You have this Douglass Plan but it was kind of stunning to me to see that small number of contracts in the city going to a minority owned enterprise.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, so the reason that number is out there is because we took a look to find out what it was knowing that that it wouldn't be a great number but when I arrived, we didn't even have the ability to assess how we were doing it, doing business with minority contractors.
I said OK, we've got to fix that. Now we're at a stage where we're saying OK, how do we set better targets but legally, we're not able to do that until we conduct a study of all the disparity so that's under way. It's going to be delivered, it's been in the works for a while, it's going to be delivered this summer. Again these are not issues that that were created on my watch but I'm
determined to make sure that they improve on my watch and there are many indicators that are getting better, some that aren't and we're honest about that.
But we try to make sure that people at least know where we stand, what the reality is and then the steps that we are taking in order to drive progress and we established an office that didn't even exist until two or three years ago to track and then drive improvements around diversity and inclusion.
AXELROD: Why didn't it exist until two or three years ago, you've been here for seven.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, so we started out by figuring out what we could do with the tools that we had and said you know what, we need to go to a whole new level and create a department that'll work on this and now we're looking at what it takes to add to the resources that that shop has.
These are not things you flip a switch on overnight but there has been intentional action much of it yielding real results and I would point to things like the diversity in our administration, the diversity in the appointments that I have made including to the civilian board that makes decisions about hiring and firing police officers.
And the economic growth that we've had, improvements in minority neighborhoods. I'm not sticking my candidacy on the idea that I came in as mayor and in my low income city poverty ended, racial inequality, injustice ended. That's not the story I'm trying to tell.
What I'm saying is that we have been able to make tremendous strides in a city that was written off categorically as dying. It's literally on a national list of America's 10 dying cities and that we're proud of the progress we've made and recognizing in the areas where we lag behind, the need for intentional steps that we've been taking all along and keep adjusting and improving as we go.
AXELROD: I know these are at first moral and governmental questions. There are also political implications and right now, CNN did a poll last week and you had 0 percent among African -American voters, a group that you called the backbone of the Democratic Party. How do you fix that and can you win if you don't?
BUTTIGIEG: I'm not interested in winning without black support. I'm interested in winning black support and deserving to win black support. It's why we're making sure that through initiatives like the Douglass Plan, people understand exactly what I propose to do with the powers of the presidency in federal office, to deal with racial inequality, from what's going on in the criminal justice system.
And the fact that we need to cut incarceration and can, I'm convinced without crime increasing cut incarceration by 50 percent in this country all the way through to the reforms in the credit system that will help black entrepreneurs be able to create more jobs. And improvements in homeownership, education and health. So two things that I found about black voters. First they're not monolithic, there's no single black vote just like here in South Bend, you'll find enthusiastic supporters and you will find critics of mine.
We're also talking to voters who do have this in common which is that lot of people feel like they've been lied to by various politicians coming along from both parties for as long as I've been alive or longer.
And so when you're new on the scene and you're not yourself from a community of color and you've got a city with a complex history, you got to do a lot of work in a short amount of time to build that trust and build those relationships but we're determined to do it.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up on THE AXE FILES.
AXELROD: Elizabeth Warren's not doing any fundraisers any more. She just raised almost as much as you.
BUTTIGIEG: Not quite.
AXELROD: Yes, OK, you are competitive.
AXELROD: This - this place which is now we're seeing a rebirth, re- purposing here in -- in South Bend was for many, many years a symbol of what happened to this region and what happened to the manufacturing sector and President did pretty well speaking to these people who feel like they have been on the short end of the stick.
And you've been critical of the Democratic Party for failing particularly in 2016 to address it. What was not said by it was a Clinton for example, that should have been said by the Democratic nominee that you would say?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the Democrats were so mesmerized by everything that was terrible about Donald Trump and obviously, there is a lot there but that was so shocking to us that we spent way more time talking about him than we did talking about what was going on in voters' lives.
It allowed him to serve up this message that said that he was speaking for so many people who had been left behind. Now he doesn't actually care about people.
I think you can tell that by his actions, his choices, by the fact that very little of what he's done has benefited working people in any part of the country and yet, there was this space where it began to look like Democrats were the party of the establishment, like we were the party saying the system was OK. And I'm worried about this for 2020. If we are portrayed as a party that is promising a return to normal which will be tempting because what we have now is so chaotic and awful. But if we look like all we have to say is let's go back to normal, there's going to be a lot of people who feel like normal has not worked for them for decades.
AXELROD: So when you say that, is that a reference to the Vice President because a lot of his message is about restoration.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think he's one candidate who runs that risk a great deal, not the only candidate who runs that risk and a big part of what I'm trying to do in my campaign is demonstrate that we understand the causes of which this President is a symptom.
If all we have to say is we're going to go back to normal then in some ways it could be perceived as a kind of a different version of what the Republicans are saying. The Republicans want to go back to the 1950s. Democrats might sound like we want to go back to the 1990s.
Now a lot of people here don't think the 1990s worked for them any better.
AXELROD: I wonder just as a pure political matter when you sit on that stage and you saw candidates saying that they would support Medicare for all plan that would eliminate private insurance, when you and others said, let's decriminalize the crossing of the border or provide government funded health care for undocumented immigrants.
What do the voters that you're talking about here in what you call flyover country, how do they react to that because you know the President's already, his two words are socialism and open borders.
BUTTIGIEG: Here's the thing. Literally no matter what we do, I mean we could adopt the Republican platform today and the President would still say we're socialists. We could build a wall ourselves and he would still say we're for open borders. So at the end of the day, what he says isn't going to change much based on what we do.
AXELROD: But if you are for positions that could be interpreted that way, doesn't it make his job easier? I know you didn't take the position that a Medicare for all--
BUTTIGIEG: That's right.
AXELROD: - should eliminate private insurance and presumably you took it not just on a policy basis but also because you understood that there's tremendous resistance to that?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, a lot of people don't want to hear that we're just going to snatch away their private health plans but at risk of sounding quite - I think the best thing to do is, talk about what we believe in, make the case for it and if the case is compelling, then even in areas that are somewhat unpopular, we can begin moving American opinion in our direction.
I don't think we should shrink from our convictions. I do think that we should be realistic about what's going to work and just flipping a switch and saying we're instantly going to have everybody on Medicare just like that, isn't realistic.
I think that when it comes to a lot of these policies that were being pushed to do say that we can pay down the last penny of tuition for any student including the child of a billionaire, these are things that are questionable on their merits and of course also pretty far out--
AXELROD: You're talking about Senator Sanders.
BUTTIGIEG: Among others. Pretty far out from where Americans are but I do think it's OK to get a little bit ahead of where the American people are on an issue if we really do believe in it.
AXELROD: Let me ask you something else about the debates. The two people who got the most notice were Julian Castro and Kamala Harris because they threw up punches that landed. That's not your temperament. Is this a disadvantage to you, we're coming up on another set of debates.
I thought you did a fine job in those debates but you didn't get the headline because you didn't throw the punch.
BUTTIGIEG: I think people right now are looking for a President who is steady. Now I am a competitive person. This is a fierce contest and I will be competitive with my Democratic competitors just as I planned to be fiercely competitive with the President when that time comes to take him on.
But I think some of the made for television moments can give you a little spike and then wear off. What people really want to know is what are you about and they're sizing us up, not just from one moment on television but moment after moment understanding who we are, what we're about, what we're going to do for them and I think that's how we win.
AXELROD: You're a famously chill guy, is it possible that your temperament actually is better in terms of facing off with Donald Trump?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's been observed that Americans often go with the opposite or whatever we just had in the presence.
AXELROD: Yes, I know someone who said that.
BUTTIGIEG: And sometimes known as axis theory of opposites, I think.
BUTTIGIEG: I think it's a convincing theory and I also think that it doesn't get more different from this President in temperament than somebody like me. Look, people are inclined to put an ideological lens on all of these things, right? Forgetting that the current President doesn't even have an ideology. So it's not a matter of finding his ideological opposite although I very much think it's important for America to have more progressive leadership than we've got right now.
It's also finding somebody who can deliver a different style of leadership than what we have and that stuff matters.
AXELROD: I mentioned at the top that you raised a quite a bit of money almost $25 million and a quarter which was phenomenal. In this book, you were talking about your race for State Treasurer of Indiana and you said, you have to wonder about fund raising, whether like spending too much time typing or sunbathing, it does something on healthy to you in the long run.
You've just done 70 fund raisers in places like Hollywood and Wall Street, Silicon Valley. You've become kind of a favored candidate of the elite. Does it give you any concern?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, we're trying to reach everybody at every different level. It's why in addition to the traditional political work we do, we also have a lot of grass roots fundraisers where tickets are very affordable. We'll fill a theater full of people to make sure that we're interacting not just with the kind of traditional party raisers but anybody who really cares--
AXELROD: Elizabeth Warren's not doing any fund raisers at all. She just raised almost as much as you like 20 million.
BUTTIGIEG: Not quite.
AXELROD: OK, you are competitive but she said she's not doing them because she thinks they're corrosive.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I mean I think ultimately this only gets better when we fix the system itself. Citizens United was a disaster for American democracy and until we change our campaign finance system, we're going to continue to have this problem that the people we elect and expect to spend their time solving our policy problems are spending way too much of their time just raising the dollars they need in order to pay the field--
AXELROD: Including you.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, how else can we fund our campaign?
AXELROD: So you're going to play by the rules as they're written now and then try and change them if you get the chance.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I can't change them until we get the chance, that's our plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Up next on THE AXE FILES. AXELROD: People will say bright young guy. Obviously smart, but he's the Mayor of a town of 100,000 people and what are the lessons that are relevant to the most important job on the planet?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:30:00] AXELROD: So Mayor, this is a special spot in your town. Tell me what this represents to you.
BUTTIGIEG: So this is a place that really brings together all the change, the growth and the transformation that we've had. The way the river used to run here was that it was kind of a combination between a conveyor belt and a sewer, a powered industry 100 years ago.
Then we went through this period of decline, not a lot was happening here. Now we see new residential construction. This is an area where we have a lightscape at night. We launched it as part of our anniversary celebration, 150 years of this city and it was a moment that let us really send a message that South Bend was back.
That we were growing after years of really taking it on the chin. I mean, we were a company town that lost our company and spent 50 years figuring out what to do if we weren't going to be making cars in the old way. Shows what can happen when a town starts to get back on its feet.
AXELROD: There is this fear of gentrification and one of your early initiatives was you knocked down a 1000 abandoned homes which were blight in the city, many of them were in minority neighborhoods. You rebuilt some of them, tore others down, all with good intentions but it became controversial.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I mean, a lot of it goes back to trust so even when we were doing things that neighbors had asked for, for a long time, when the city started coming into fix houses or remove houses that couldn't be saved.
The question was OK, are you doing this for or are you doing this to us? In the end, it made a lot of people better off especially minority residents in low income neighborhoods but it took a lot of work to establish trust around what the intention of it was. They still have fear, is this going to make me worse off, is this going to diminish my place in the future of this community?
AXELROD: And yet these blighted homes were also a danger to the community.
BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely and that's why we undertook it because neighbors were saying you know, this house next to me has been vacant for ten years. I have no idea who even owns it and the fact that it was sitting there collapsing, to them it was evidence that the city didn't care about them.
Now, that wasn't actually true. The city over the years have tried to do different things but the truth was you know, they didn't see their neighborhoods getting better and that's what we had to change.
AXELROD: This was a politically difficult thing for you and in fact you lost support in those neighborhoods from one election to the next and that was one of the major reasons why.
BUTTIGIEG: In some areas, yes. I mean some folks approved one part of the policy, disapproved another and vice versa but you know what we found I think was that there was more support on the housing side, more frustration on the policing side where we're taking a lot of steps.
But it didn't amount to a department that everybody felt they were connected to or that they could trust.
AXELROD: One thing that I noticed is that the poverty rate among African-Americans or Hispanics here are significantly higher than the average for the nation.
BUTTIGIEG: That's right.
AXELROD: In that sense, how much progress has been made here?
BUTTIGIEG: You know, this didn't begin with my administration and it won't end on my watch but we've made progress so there's two ways of looking at it. I can point to the fact that black unemployment is down by half since I took office or we can face the fact that it's still double what it is for white residents.
I mean, there's no question that the issues of racial inequality around education, housing, access to capital, criminal justice of course and health that we feel around the country. We also feel very much right here especially in a low income community like this but the investments that we've made in supporting minority businesses, in supporting under invested neighborhoods, in helping with families up have made a real difference.
They've lifted thousands of people out of poverty or at least contributed to that happening.
AXELROD: People will say bright young guy, obviously smart, but he's the Mayor of a town of 100,000 people and what are the lessons that are relevant to the most important job on the planet?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think it's precisely in a community like this one that you can see the story that a lot of the coverage is missing. You know, there are a lot of commentators who were befuddled by the idea that in 2016, we would have a so called economic anxiety election in the middle of full employment.
But if you're from the community like this, you understand exactly how that could happen. You see whole neighborhoods and whole parts of communities where it's as if this recovery never even happened. I just think we need far more voices than we have today, especially in the Democratic Party, speaking for communities that are mid-sized and smaller and rural and suburban.
Rather than appearing to be a party of the biggest cities along.
AXELROD: The President added states of course speaks for the entire country and so what about the scale? What prepares you for that?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, think of it this way. You could be a very senior U. S. senator and have never in your life managed more than 100 people. But people are less likely to ask that question of a senator because they see you operating in Washington. Nobody walks into the Oval office, actually having experienced the presidency from within.
You have to bring the experiences you do have.
AXELROD: Do you think that that experience at this moment of being in the Congress that is so deeply, deeply embroiled in partisanship and political warfare, is that a demerit for the people who serve them.
BUTTIGIEG: I do you think that spending too much time in Washington may constrain your imagination about the ways in which Washington needs to change. I've encountered a lot of senators who can't get their head around the idea that we would ever undertake reform of the Supreme Court for example, even though this country's done that many, many times in the past.
The idea that we even dare to talk about constitutional remedies to what is broken in our democracy from money and politics to the need for a national popular vote. I think that sometimes when you spend so much time understanding the ways of Washington, you wind up perhaps more than you intend, also accepting those ways and that's where I think that outside perspective can be a benefit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Up next.
BUTTIGIEG: It does create a sense of opportunity but also responsibility when you realize that you're letting a lot of people who grew up believing they were less than, you're letting them know that they do have a future that they're represented and that they can do anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:40:00] AXELROD: You would be the first gay President. What age were you aware of your own sexual orientation?
BUTTIGIEG: I think I was aware maybe that I was different pretty early on, but I was pretty far into my twenties before I was actually ready to acknowledge even to myself that I was gay. It was a simple fact of life but it's amazing what you can - what can happen in your mind.
It's almost like a war breaks out inside you when something is true that you don't want to be true. AXELROD: Why didn't you want it to be true?
BUTTIGIEG: I think you know, I grew up - even though I had a wonderful and accepting family, growing up in Indiana, having your professional choices mostly revolve around service in elected office and service in the military.
It doesn't exactly create an easy path for somebody who's different.
AXELROD: So you felt that it would be a barrier to your goal of service.
BUTTIGIEG: And frankly just a barrier to living well in the world I've been brought up in. I did not know one out student in my entire high school of nearly 1000 people. If I'd come out then, I would have been the only one. There's no question I was not the only one but as far as I knew, as far as I believe, that was the case and it took me longer than - than many people to confront this basic fact.
And then when I did, by then I'd become Mayor, or I was about to become Mayor, I was pretty busy and I didn't mind at first not having a dating life but eventually those things catch up to you and you realize that you got to move forward because you're not getting any younger.
AXELROD: It must have been terribly lonely. It must have been lonely for you.
BUTTIGIEG: I didn't think of it as lonely at the time but looking back, I must have been. I just filled my life with other things. I was busy. I always thought to myself the city was a jealous bride and it was going to consume as much attention as I had to give. It was really only the deployment that kind of shook me awake and I realized my life could end as a grown man in a position of responsibility who has no idea what it's like to be in love.
And I realized how crazy that was and what I was doing to myself by not allowing myself to have that side of my personal life and even though at the time, I couldn't imagine how people with spouses or partners do politics. Now that I'm Mayor, I have a hard time imagining how I could possibly do this if I were alone.
AXELROD: Chastain, who I've come to know, I was at your wedding is as extroverted and ebullient as you are, restrained in many ways, trained in many ways, how has he changed you.
BUTTIGIEG: You know, I think he's helped me come alive to the ways in which having an office like even like that of mayor and certainly being a Presidential candidate or being a President creates all these different ways to brighten other people's lives and you know, he's always tugging at me to go to one more event here in South Bend.
And saying you know, think of all the people whose day you can make a little bit better by seeing them out in the street and telling him that what they're doing is important. There's something about the way we play off each other though that I think helps - helps wake me up to some of the possibilities around me and balance me out.
AXELROD: You write so compellingly about the letters you got once you came out. What would it mean do you think for you to be elected President?
BUTTIGIEG: You know, one of the biggest things we've encountered on this campaign is people letting us know what it means to them, just to have an out person running. I mean kids are still killing themselves, right now and we've even heard from kids or parents who let us know that that you know, kids life was in danger and it meant something to them to see this campaign.
I have people sometimes come up to me from an older generation who never thought that this would be possible and sometimes they come up to say hello and they can't even speak. And that's when I realized that you know, I didn't get into this to be the gay Presidential candidate and I'm not running to be the gay President but it does create a sense of opportunity but also responsibility when you realize that that you're letting a lot of people who grew up believing they were less than.
You're letting them know that they do have a future, that they are represented and that they can do anything.
AXELROD: In your book you said it was in high school when you began to thinking about maybe a career in in public service.
BUTTIGIEG: It started out as a class joke in my senior history class that I'd run for office someday and then the more I thought about it, the more I thought you know, I can do some good here.
AXELROD: But it does seem like you've kind of made us a very intentional journey to public office, you went to Harvard, Oxford and then you went to McKinsey, gigantic consulting firm and steeped yourself in business and then you enlisted in the reserves. All these seem like you were building towards something.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, there were moments when I might have taken a detour. I thought I was going to be a journalist or want to see what the business world had to offer but at the end of the day, my North star was always public service because I felt that I cared more about that than anything else I could be doing.
AXELROD: Tell me about your experience in the military. You were already Mayor when you got called to Afghanistan. You've talked about national service for the country because you said it was important for people of different backgrounds to get to know each other and the service was a great way to do it.
Who did you meet, were there people who you met who were from completely different places that changed the way you thought about things?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, totally because people had such different stories. The military is by far the most racially integrated organization that I've been part of. You know, your side by side with people who have just totally different lives than you do and it doesn't mean that you wind up automatically changing the way they see things or agreeing with them.
But you learn to have a kind of regard for people that are different from you, that have different values from you and it's one of the things that motivates my interest in having national service opportunities for all young Americans is that you know, you shouldn't have to go to war to have that kind of experience.
But there are fewer and fewer, I think ways in current American life that people who have such different interests and backgrounds and stories actually wind up, thrust into a situation where they're together working on something challenging and building those bridges across these kinds of divides.
AXELROD: You became disillusioned as you write when you were over in Afghanistan because you arrive just as the President was announcing a winding down of our engagement there. One of your but he said the war is over and you began to think about what it meant to be involved in an endless war.
AXELROD: How would that affect you as Commander in Chief?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, the first is understanding just how important when it comes to wars, how important it is to not start one if you can help it because it very much weighed on me when somebody said the war is over and I'm thinking, I could get killed in a war that a lot of people think is over.
That was in 2014. When I left Afghanistan in the fall of 2014, I thought I was one of the last guys turning out the lights and now five years later we're still there and so it forces you to confront the question of what it takes to end these endless wars and--
AXELROD: What would the tests for getting in be?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's got to be either response to an attack or direct threat on the United States or our treaty allies or an internationally legitimate, coordinated action to do something like prevented a genocide.
What you wouldn't do is deal with the situation like Venezuela where you had the national security adviser kind of casually suggesting we might send troops. You look at Iran where we seem to be on this slippery slope, a situation that could get out of the control of both the Iranians and our own White House.
And you recognize just how dangerous it is to have the path that we're on but also personnel is policy. The President right now has asked one of the people who engineered the Iraq war, John Bolton to be a leading figure in American national security.
Now we've got to surround the Oval office with people who are going to be doing everything in their power to make sure, it is never necessary for the U.S. to enter into an armed conflict.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Ahead on THE AXE FILES.
AXELROD: Who said this? South Bend, Indiana so blessed to have an energetic innovative forward-looking creative Mayor in Pete Buttigieg.
BUTTIGIEG: Oh, I think I know where you're going.
[19:55:00] AXELROD: So here's a quiz for you. Who said this? South Bend, Indiana is so blessed to have an energetic, innovative, forward looking, creative Mayor in Pere Buttigieg?
BUTTIGIEG: Oh I think I know where you're going with this? Is that is that our VP?
AXELROD: Yes, Mike Pence.
BUTTIGIEG: That was nice of him.
AXELROD: And you worked with him.
AXELROD: But you've been pretty tough on him lately.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUTTIGIEG: How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: And really questioning his commitment to his faith in supporting some of the behavior of a Donald Trump. Do you believe he and by extension white evangelicals who have embraced Trump have betrayed their faith?
BUTTIGIEG: I mean, I don't know the inner workings of another person's faith but I know hypocrisy when I see it. And when you have individuals or a party that cloaks itself in religious garb, that uses religious language all the time, that's even gone so far as to sometimes seek to impose their religion on others.
And then you see them behaving in a way that is the exact opposite of the scriptural commandments that tell us that we are to look after the prisoner and welcome the immigrant and heal the sick and concern ourselves more with the poor than anybody else. That in our leaders we should look for humility and decency and even servitude. When you see just how far from that the project of the current religious right has become, I think it's got to be called out because either one of two things is happening.
Either they have somehow convinced themselves that God would smile on tearing families apart or on the behavior of this President or they don't care and it's all just kind of a sham.
AXELROD: Or they feel like in some of his other public positions on judges, on abortion and so on that he is aligned with them.
BUTTIGIEG: There's that term, making a deal with the devil, I can't think of a more apt example of it than if that's really true. It's one of the reasons why we find that that lots of people come to me, talking about their appreciation for the fact is that I do talk about faith on the trail, not because I seek to--
AXELROD: You know you do you do on the trail, there's 330 pages here and you wrote almost nothing about it in your book, why?
BUTTIGIEG: You know, it's not everything that was important in my life made it into the book and even as I was writing, I was in the middle of the of the faith journey that I would say even now is incomplete. But what I think is really important in the political space is to let people know that they have a choice.
It's not to say that if you're religious, you need to be a Democrat or a Republican and I've seen this, growing up a very religious community, where I some people it's just associated being Republican with being kind of decent and upstanding intricately. And if there was ever a time for that spell to be broken, it's under the presidency we're dealing with right now.
AXELROD: You speak eight languages, you taught yourself Norwegian in order to translate a novelist. You appreciate it, you're an avid musician, you play the guitar and you play the piano and have since you're five years old and you played with your own symphony here this South Bend symphony.
AXELROD: And you wrote that your piano teacher you trained with for six months urged you to play the music and not the notes. And that struck me as sort of a good lesson for Presidential politics. How do you make your narrative more than the notes?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I think I hadn't thought about that that comparison but it's true, I think sometimes we get bogged down in the notes, especially Democrats because we love our policies and sometimes we get so caught up in explaining why our policy is better designed than the other person's policy, that we forget to tell the story about why those policies matter.
And if we locate the heart of our politics in the everyday, if we hold all of our politics accountable based on whether they're going to make everyday lives better or worse, then I think, we'll be better off politically but also will be better off as a country.
And people again especially in this part of the country, the industrial Midwest, have watched Republican and Democratic presidencies come and go for as long as I'm alive and not seen their boats rise with the tide.
We got to fix that or we're going to be tuned out.
AXELROD: Well, let me end where we began. It seems to me that wherever you go from here, that you've already kind of won because you're announced - you've announced yourself as a voice on the national stage and I suspect the voice, we're going to hear from for many years to come.
So good luck on the trail.
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.
AXELROD: Mayor Pete, good to be with you. For more of the conversation, you can visit luminarypodcast.com.