On Wednesday, Pete Buttigieg (pronounced boot-uh-judge) entered the 2020 Democratic primary. The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., is one of the youngest Democratic contenders.
I launched a presidential exploratory committee because it is a season for boldness and it is time to focus on the future. Are you ready to walk away from the politics of the past?
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) January 23, 2019
Here are 5 things to know about this surprise candidate.
1. Harvard veteran is lord of the poultry.
Buttigieg, who is half Maltese (his last name means “lord of the poultry”), was a Rhodes scholar and graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude in 2004. He studied the influence of puritanism on U.S. foreign policy. He became a Naval intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve in 2009 and went on a 7-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2013.
He ran for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2017, backed by former DNC Chair Howard Dean.
2. Youngest mayor.
After three years at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Buttigieg returned to his home city of South Bend, Ind., and ran for state treasurer in 2010. While he lost that race, the political splash gave him much-needed name recognition (something he sorely lacks for the 2020 presidential race).
In 2011, he won his first term as mayor of South Bend, becoming the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents. He took a break from leading the city for his Afghanistan deployment. Buttigieg won re-election four years later with 80 percent of the vote. He has used the office to redevelop abandoned industrial facilities and demolish or repair vacant or abandoned homes.
Buttigieg is running on “turning around a dying city,” but despite his popularity, many question the impact of his leadership. In 2016, 31 percent of tested children were found to have elevated lead levels — higher than the numbers in Flint, Mich. South Bend is safer than only 3 percent of U.S. cities. The Vacant and Abandoned Properties Initiative, started in February 2013, aimed to take care of 1,000 vacant or abandoned homes in 1,000 days, but by June 2015 only 828 homes had been demolished or repaired.
“Before Buttigieg wastes time on a presidential campaign, he should focus on his town’s sea of potholes and sky-high crime rate,” Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “His bid isn’t just bad news for residents, it’s more proof that Democrats are about to endure the most crowded, divisive, and contentious primary in history.”
3. Openly gay member of the Episcopal Church.
Buttigieg is a member of the Episcopal Church, one of the most liberal mainline denominations of Christianity. Many formerly Episcopal churches abandoned the denomination as it embraced the idea that sinful people can be saved without faith in Jesus Christ. The Episcopal Church has also rushed to embrace the LGBT agenda.
The South Bend mayor announced his homosexual orientation in June 2015, days before the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. On June 16, 2018, exactly three years after he “came out,” the mayor married another man, Chasten Glezman.
As an Indiana public official under Governor Mike Pence, Buttigieg has spoken out against Pence.
“Many people here can’t get their heads around the idea that someone could be homophobic, fanatical, and wrong, make terrible decisions, and also be sincere,” the mayor tweeted last year. “Did he make horrible policy on HIV and many other matters? Yes. Did it destroy lives? Yes. Was it sincere? Yes.”
Many people here can't get their heads around the idea that someone could be homophobic, fanatical, and wrong, make terrible decisions, and also be sincere. Did he make horrible policy on HIV and many other matters? Yes. Did it destroy lives? Yes. Was it sincere? Yes.
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) July 24, 2018
Buttigieg slammed Pence’s activity as vice president, claiming that the VP engaged in political stunts that would have been beneath him years ago.
The mayor’s position seems rather interesting. Despite his openly gay identity, Buttigieg seems to understand that when Christians believe same-sex activity is sinful, that can be sincere — a position that is tragically rare among LGBT activists today.
However, the mayor still stigmatized Pence’s position as “homophobic, fanatical, and wrong.” In an era where outrage surrounds even the announcement that Pence’s wife is teaching at a Christian school and Democratic senators launch an inquisition against a member of the Knights of Columbus, the stigmatization of traditional Christian doctrine on sexuality has got to stop. Buttigieg’s attacks may be more nuanced, but he is still wedded to LGBT activism.
4. “A new generation of leadership.”
When the South Bend mayor announced his candidacy, he said, “It’s time for a new generation of leadership in our country.” At age 37, Buttigieg is a card-carrying member of the millennial generation.
“I think a lot about intergenerational justice. Short-term versus long-term helps to explain a lot of the policy disagreements that happen between the parties, and I would argue that in most ways we are the party with more long-term thinking,” Buttigieg told The Atlantic‘s Edward-Isaac Dovere.
“If you’re my age or younger, you were in high school when the school shootings became widespread; you’re going to be dealing with climate change for most of your adult life in specific, noticeable ways,” Buttigieg argued. “You’re going to be dealing with the consequences of what they’ve done to the debt; you’re on track to be the first generation ever to make less than your parents, unless something changes; and your generation furnished most of the troops for the post-9/11 wars. It just gives you a very different relationship to political decision makers and decision making.”
The South Bend mayor is right about intergenerational justice, but he’s wrong about the ways in which previous politicians have ruined the economy for millennials. Big government programs from the New Deal to the Great Society to Obamacare have made it harder for millennials to rise and achieve certain milestones like home ownership. America’s burgeoning debt — which Trump, for all his positives, has failed to address — is a serious problem for millennials and those who come after us.
As for climate change, the crisis is manufactured. Climate models have failed in their predictions, and it is not possible to know exactly how much climate change is caused by human activity. While the burning of fossil fuels may contribute to climate change, scare tactics are used to enrich a climate industrial complex that will not solve the global issue. If climate alarmists were sincere, they would invest in nuclear energy, which is far more effective and far better for the environment than wind and solar.
As a millennial, I sympathize with Buttigieg’s call for intergenerational justice, but I think he has allowed liberal orthodoxy to blind him to the real issues.
5. But can he win?
Despite his relative obscurity, Buttigieg may have a real shot at the presidency. Barack Obama named him as a potential leader for the Democrats — in 2016. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published profiles asking whether Buttigieg may become “The First Gay President” or “The First Millennial President.”
FiveThirtyEight’s Gus Wezerek explained how the South Bend mayor could win. Millennials could account for about a third of Democratic voters in the 2020 primary, and Nate Silver suggested millennials would be Buttigieg’s base (he’s a board game enthusiast and posts photos of his dog on Instagram).
Buttigieg won an award for writing an essay praising Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for his “outstanding and inspiring” integrity. His policies also echo Sanders’: the mayor advocates for higher minimum wages and supports single-payer “Medicare for All.” The mayor is also likely to push a “Rustbelt revival” theme. South Bend’s population declined and that trend reversed during his mayorship. Buttigieg could present himself as a younger Bernie Sanders.
The mayor’s homosexuality may count against him, although the Democratic Party seems ever more adamant about championing LGBT issues and candidates. Wezerek suggested that the South Bend mayor could normalize the idea of a gay president, and that may be his main goal.
Buttigieg faces a tough road ahead, as mayors rarely do well in presidential primaries. His lack of experience in national politics may also render him unable to campaign in the same way other candidates can, and the packed Democratic primary seems an odd choice for a longshot bid like this one.
Then again, if Democrats rip each other apart, Buttigieg could emerge as a dark horse late in the game.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.