WASHINGTON — Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, defended his lack of experience Sunday, arguing that voters should look at the “quality, as well as quantity” of time spent in public service.
Appearing on “Meet the Press” a week before he formally announces his presidential bid, Buttigieg argued he would step into the White House with more executive and military experience than the two most recent presidents, and said he’s been on the front lines of major issues like infrastructure, economics and race relations as mayor.
And the 37-year-old mayor brushed aside any worry that Americans might want a more seasoned candidate to follow President Donald Trump, who never served in public office until he won the White House in 2016.
“I would stack up my experience against anybody," he said. "I know it's not as traditional, I know I haven't been marinating in Washington here for a very long time and I'm not part of the same establishment. But I would argue that being a mayor of a city of any size means you have to deal with the kinds of issues that really hit Americans."
He added: “I think you can see pretty clearly I’m about as different from this president as you get."
Buttigieg has enjoyed a surge in popularity on the Democratic side. He was once a relatively unknown commodity on the national stage, but his poll numbers are rising and he announced last week that his campaign has raised $7 million since its launch in January, an impressive number for a relative newcomer.
He admitted that he’s “as surprised as anybody” to watch his stock rise so quickly, but added that his unique candidacy can appeal to those who want to “change the channel from this mesmerizing horror show” of the Trump administration.
“Here you have this moment, probably the only moment in American history, where it just might make sense for somebody my age, coming from experience in the industrial Midwest, non-federal, different background, bringing something that will actually help Americans,” he said.
Buttigieg tried to draw divides between himself and Trump on issues including immigration and faith.
On immigration, shortly after Trump declared “the country is full,” Buttigieg criticized the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, arguing that the debate over whether to defund the agency is a larger one about how to treat immigrants.
"As long as you have an agency, even if you get rid of ICE and call it something else, being ordered to tear families apart from one another, or being ordered to make it harder to get onto a path to citizenship, you are going to continue to have heartbreaking stories that are not helping anybody,” he said.
And he criticized what he called the “hypocrisy” of Trump and his supporters among the religious right, claiming that Trump “acts in a way that is not consistent with anything I hear in scripture or in church.”
“We see the diametric opposite of that in this presidency,” he said.
“Even on the version of Christianity that you hear on the religious right, which is about sexual ethics, I can't believe that somebody who was caught writing hush-money checks to adult film actresses is somebody they should be lifting up as the kind of person they want to be leading this nation."
Buttigieg’s highest-profile executive experience is from his time in South Bend, a city that still is struggling to rebound from a loss of industry. Data from the 2018 Census Bureau and EvictionLab.org show the city has a 25.4 percent poverty rate and a 6.7 percent eviction rate.
While the mayor admitted that there’s still “so much work to do in a community like ours,” he argued that he’s been easily re-elected to his mayoral post because he’s making strides to solve those problems.
“Our poverty rate is too high, but it's down. We've cut unemployment more than half and we’ve been able to change the trajectory of the city,” he said.
“We have really changed the story for our city.”