Exclusive: Pete Buttigieg Readies for His Primetime Convention Slot

Pete Buttigieg
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will address the Democratic National Convention on Thursday.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg parlayed a two-term South Bend mayoralty and a dark horse Democratic primary presidential bid, which resulted him in becoming the first gay candidate to win a statewide electoral contest, into a possible spot in a Biden administration.

Last night, Buttigieg cast Indiana’s 86 votes for Biden from the floor of the revamped Studebaker Building 84, the same location where he launched his presidential bid some 17 months ago. Buttigieg, who, according to Politico, has raised an estimated $6.7 million for the former vice president, will deliver a primetime convention address from South Bend on Thursday.

Here, in an exclusive interview with Indianapolis Monthly, Buttigieg previews his convention speech, talks about the tough ad the Biden campaign trotted out against him before New Hampshire’s primary last February, and downplays a future Senate or gubernatorial bid in Indiana.

I understand a tweet that I may have issued last week about the provenance of a private plane heading to Delaware may have interrupted your repairs to a new Michigan lakehouse.

It created all kinds of fun in my life. I was having a nice quiet day. My legs were sticking out from under his sink cartoon style as I was feeling very domestic. We were on our way to acquiring a quarter share of the steer with the Glezman family when suddenly my phone blew up, thanks to you.


I apologize.

That’s all right. I wonder who it was?

Me, too. What is your earliest memory of watching a convention?

I remember my parents watching the Democratic convention. I remember Jesse Jackson speaking. I think that was the first, and them explaining to me who he was and why it was so important that he was running for president and how that whole process worked. And I remember somebody had a great line about how there was a contest between an aristocrat and autocrat and a Democrat. And I didn’t know what all of those words meant, but I liked the line, but that must have been ‘92.

You’ll be speaking about belonging on Thursday night, which is a theme in your presidential campaign. Why do you think that matters, particularly now during a pandemic?

Well that’s just it, we’ve had a sense of isolation and a crisis of belonging for a long time, and now it’s been deepened by the conditions of the pandemic. And if we can’t learn to be one country, if we can’t develop a level of trust in our institutions and in each other, then we’re not going to be able to navigate these challenges. The other reason I wanted to talk about belonging is because it’s important to me for us to put Americans in touch with what we’re for as well as what we’re against. The case against Donald Trump is powerful, and we will continue to make that case throughout this week and throughout the weeks ahead. But I want to make sure to talk about the country we could have and in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I see leaders who are going to have the instincts to bring us in that direction. Joe Biden, because of his empathy as well as his experience. And Senator Harris, because of her life experience and what she represents—as well as just the kind of person that she is.

You know Mike Pence better than a lot of national politicians. How does Sen. Kamala Harris measure up to him on the debate stage? And are there any particular lines of attack that you might advise her on pursuing?

She has demonstrated not just in debates, but in the Senate, her ability to get to the heart of a matter in just a few words. And I think that will be very powerful in holding the Trump-Pence administration to account. Mike Pence is somebody who has gone against not just our values, but his own, by signing up to be part of the Trump campaign and administration. I think deep down, he knows that he’s traded against even his own conservative values. And I think she will be able to point to that and won’t let him off the hook any more than she has let people off the hook who found themselves before her and committee. I think the debate will be a powerful moment for us and I’m looking forward to seeing her on the campaign trail, but also seeing what she would do with the vice presidency, because I think it would be different and better.

Do you really think that’s true? Do you really think there’s cognition of guilt on Pence’s part? Or is he doing what he thinks is right?

I think that’s part of why he doesn’t respond well when the hypocrisy is pointed out. He isn’t stupid and he’s got to know that the things that this president has said and done go against not just the political or religious values that Mike Pence has professed during his political life, but also just the way he has wanted to be seen in terms of how people ought to treat each other. There’s no way, just as a human being, that he isn’t aware of the wrongness of that. And I think that contradiction weighs on him every day.

Your Win the Era PAC has recently endorsed a slate of Hoosier Democrats. Will that be enough to get them across the finish line in barn-red Indiana?

Well, I certainly hope to make a positive difference. When you run for office in Indiana as a Democrat, you know you’re running into headwinds, but we also know that it can be done. We’ve seen so many unlikely victories here in Indiana, and I think if there’s ever been a year for that to happen once more, it’s right now in 2020. So I’m excited about candidates at every level, including the ones who we’ve endorsed in the area and obviously hopeful that it will make a positive difference to take some of that visibility, knowing that maybe some national observers don’t always think of Indiana when they think of the Democratic party and make sure that we get some attention on our leadership. The people we’re putting forward I think really meet the moment and I’m excited to do my part to help amplify their message.

Every interviewer who you’ve talked with you this week has asked you about a cabinet position, but have you thoroughly ruled out running for Senate in 2022 or governor in 2024 in Indiana?

I’m certainly not looking at, or thinking of running for any office right now. And we’re also in a world of so much uncertainty that I think we’ve got to stay really focused on the road ahead and make sure we’re successful in November.

If Biden does win and you do have a chance to help them in the administration, are you worried that Republicans will use the ad that he ran against you before the New Hampshire primary, as evidence that you might not be quite up to the cabinet position?

I don’t think the primary competition is going to stand in the way of doing what’s right. Just as we’ve unified very quickly around the ticket that we have. You know, they’ll do whatever they do, but what I know is that there’s an extraordinary amount of unity. I mean, to see everybody from Republicans for Joe to Bernie Sanders, all on the same page on the first night of the convention, I think shows where we really are. And as president, he’s going to have enormous challenges, but I know that he will build the team that is needed to meet those challenges.

Have you decided which historic landmark that you will give your address from on Thursday yet? And does that mean that you’ll be delivering it from Fiddler’s Hearth, or will it be Corby’s or the Linebacker?

I like where you’re going with that. I don’t think we’re able to share the venue just yet, but certainly looking forward to anytime I can get a lot of eyeballs on South Bend, even if it’s simply the setting for a convention speech, I’m obviously excited about that, it makes me proud.