Pete Buttigieg on Maddow 4/15/2019

The following is a transcript of Pete Buttigieg on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC, late at night on 4/15/2019. There are several newsy bits, I recommending reading the whole thing.


Q: …your husband says that you wrote it yourself that morning?

A: Yeah, I've been working on it a little longer than that, but I was polishing it off until about midday.

Q: When you think about big moments like this in your life, are you a guy who likes to work alone? Or do you like to work with a team? Are you -- are you a collaborative person? Are you a sort of a hermit? How do you -- how do you work for big stuff?

A: You know, I have a great team, I love collaborating with them to get things set up, but there's then -- there's a line of poetry -- I can't remember it's from the -- “The final decisions are made in silent rooms” and you know, when I've got a big decision or a big body of work, once I've consulted with the team and gotten the advice, that's when I like to spend a little time with myself and just put my head down, think, reflect and often that -- that or sometimes in the shower when I'm just thinking myself, more laid back fashion are when a lot of the best ideas come.

Q: 90% of my best ideas have come in the shower. That's why I spend way too much time in the shower. In terms of how things have gone so far, obviously, you've had -- you got a lot of very good press early on in this run, and now you're getting a lot of good press about getting good press, and you're pplling very well, your fundraising numbers are really big -- the response, according to your campaign, in terms of what the fundraising response was yesterday to your formal announcement is very impressive. Is this what you planned? Are you surprising yourself?

A: The trajectory of it is a lot faster than what we expected. So we're pleased, I mean, we certainly believed and hope that the message would land, that we get traction that people would be excited about the idea of the new generation of leadership and somebody coming from a different background, like a mayor, you know, all of that is as we hoped, but the pace of it has been extraordinary.

At the same time, you know, I'm trying not to fool myself, right? Obviously, it's no small thing to find yourself third in the polls, related to the American presidency. On the other hand, when I go out on the street after this, the majority of people who pass by will not recognize me, and it's April, we've got a very long way to go in this process.

Q: How do you scale up? How do you learn how to scale up to running a national level campaign? You have to do that not just for the general, but in order to win the primary, I know that you've, you know, you, you've worked on presidential campaigns before, Kerry, Obama, and so you've seen them in operation from a ground level perspective. But how do you learn how to run when you've never done anything remotely like this before?

A: We're very conscious of what we don't know. And so we're trying to take on advice from people who have seen some version of this movie before. From people who were involved in the Obama campaign to people who are involved in the Gary Hart campaign, just to learn as much as we can, about how this works. And at the same time, recognize that each cycle is different. It has different dynamics. And we're also determined, I mean, somebody like me, shouldn't do something like this, unless we're prepared to do it in a novel way. In an original way. And we want to make sure that we're writing our own playbook, you know, organizationally.

But some things you've just got to get the muscle memory of people who've seen it before: ballot access in early states, organizing in different constituencies, And there are other things. I think the playbook really is changing. Digital is a good example. You know, we Democrats like to think of ourselves as the sophisticated ones. But in some ways we got outclassed on digital persuasion in 2016. I'm not just talking about the cheating and the nefarious stuff.

I'm also just saying, if you look at how much we spent on digital versus on traditional TV, for example, in so many races, it was actually the Republicans who were seeing more of what could be done with -- with digital involvement.

And from a tactical perspective, you know, you don't have the sort of firms that you have around TV, organized in quite the same way in the digital space. So we're going to have to build up some of this talent and capacity in-house. So it's a mix of building a great organization that you think can power you through, in those early states and listening to people who have some insights. Because, you know, we -- as you said, we've never been doing something like this in this way, and we need to learn from those who have seen these things before.

Q: On policy, you have floated some big idea policies, yet when you go to your website and you look, go to the issues section, you compare the way you're running the way to somebody like Elizabeth Warren is running, you've been a lot less specific on a lot of policy matters. Are you doing that strategically, because you've got some idea of all the policies you want to roll out, you just want to do it later, or are you trying to avoid being pinned down on stuff at all?

A: Part of it's a sequencing thing. But I do want everybody to understand where I stand on any important policy issue. And we've tried to make that clear in -- in interviews and statements, you'll start seeing more of a web presence that will make that clear too.

I do think as Democrats, we sometimes have a tendency to lead with the policy minutia. Of course, it's important for people to know where we stand. But I also think, you know, one thing conservatives did very effectively was a sort of claimed the idea space, they talked a lot about values, and kind of won a lot of the arguments, or at least won a lot of media space for their values, beginning with the Reagan administration, in such a way that even Democrats were compelled to do, what I would consider largely conservative things, when they took office really, at any time in my lifetime. And so it's very important to me to make sure that we're winning a values argument too.

It's why I talked about things like freedom, and why freedom can't just be kind of property of the conservative movement to the Republicans. But that means, you know, constructive freedom. So, to me something like the work that goes on -- on consumer financial protection is freedom, because you're not free if you're prevented from suing a credit card company after they get caught ripping you off. Healthcare is freedom to me. It secures our freedom to have access to health care, which is why I've been clear about Medicare for All being the desired destination for us.

But also, I believe that -- that politicians who talked about things like Medicare for All should have some account or the glide path to get there. And so I've described how I think if we design it in the right way, making a version of Medicare available on the exchanges for people to buy into as an option will be the pathway to get there.

So I feel that I've been specific about the goals and about the outlines of the policy design I think helps us get there, but also I’m looking forward to an iterative process where we continue to find the best way to articulate some of these, and to divine some of those, and have some humility, about what happens when all of your campaign statements collide with the reality of governing.

You know, you look at something like the New Deal. That didn't happen because it was completely formulated by FDR as a campaign promise, brought in a briefcase to the White House and then deployed. It happened because there was a set of values and priorities that encountered the reality on the ground.

And when we think about something like, well, something like the Green New Deal, which I think we should admit, even though I think it's very attractive framework, I think we should admit that it's more a set of goals right now than it is a fully articulated policy. We're going to need to continue laying down the left and right boundaries of what we think we ought to be part of that, but also recognize that that's going to evolve when we actually hit the ground in the policy context, hopefully, after a Democrat comes into power in 2020.

Q: I think that one of the values that Americans are talking about more and realizing we have more of an emotional attachment than we thought we did, was the idea of our Constitutional norms or non-legal morays about how we govern. Because this President has been radically dismissive of so many of them. In that context -- in which we've got a president who is revoking security clearances against his political enemies -- in which he is talking about banning Muslims from the United States and campaigning on that -- doing these sorts of things that are unimaginable, even in a dystopian fiction version of American governance -- but we're living it now -- I think the idea of radically changing structural things in the American -- in the American government, especially when the Republican Party is now led by Donald Trump and his supporters… that is -- that feels different than it might it -- might coming out of President Obama than it might have any other recent time. The idea of abolishing the electoral college as you've suggested, the idea of expanding the Supreme Court to 15 seats with a different method of picking judges. I feel like those are bold ideas, bold structural ideas about protecting our democracy, it also feel -- feels like we're sort of balanced on tiptoe right now in terms of our constitutional inheritance. Feels like a time when we might not be able to -- be able to take a shove in either direction on that stuff.

A: It sounds like a paradox. But in many ways, I think actually those two observations go together. In other words, it's of moments when the soundness of our democratic setup, especially when it seems, moments when it's being tested, that we need to pay the most attention to the structure.

I would argue that a presidency like the one we're living through, wouldn't have even been possible, unless there were a lot of structural problems in our economy and in our democracy that a candidate like he was -- was able to exploit.

And I think this is actually the exact moment where we've got to look at how we shore up our democracy. You think about some of the concern, and anxiety, and maybe grief over the stability of our system that happened in the 70s, which led to some reforms in the -- in the Watergate era. You look at various moments, various seasons, if you will, for structural improvements. They aren't always the most kind of stable or easy times for our country. The question before us is, can our democracy accommodate the -- the forces that are -- that are hitting us, through the 21st Century?

I think it can. But to get there, we got to use some of the most elegant features built into the Constitution, like the ability to amend it to make our country stronger. I think we ought to have that level of ambition. And the difference between us in this President is we're proposing using the Constitution's processes for kind of self-healing, if we realized that this would be a fairer place if everyone's vote counted the same. And if the way we picked our president was to tally up all the votes and give to the person who got the most votes, then now is a moment to make that change through a process that is delivered.

Q: Are you worried that you are giving the Trump era Republican Party and idea that they ought to start amending the constitution right now?

A: I think they already have. You know, Republicans in the Senate changed the number of justices on the Supreme Court. They changed it to eight until they took power and then they changed it back to nine.

So you know, a lot of what we're talking about is no less of shattering of norms and what the other side has done. But we're proposing it to do it in a way that is more inclusive, I would say more constitutionally sound, more appropriate and will, just by the nature of the checks and balances in our system, have to go through a very thoughtful and rigorous process. I think that if they try tinkering with the system -- again -- they're already doing it under the table in so many ways. But if they tried doing it more nakedly, they're going to encounter resistance because most Americans don't want this. Most Americans don't want the conservative agenda that we're now seeing, the extreme agenda. That we're seeing in Washington. In fact, it is precisely for that reason, that they have to interfere with democracy with things like voter suppression, or clinging on an electoral college that overrules the will of the American people.

It is precisely because the American people by and large, don't want what they're selling, that they are relying on manipulations of our political structure in order to keep their agenda in play.

Q: Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, will you stay here?

A: I’d love to.

[commercial break]

Q: Back with us now is Pete Buttigieg. He is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a Democratic candidate for president, who has made a lot of press in recent days for the ways that he has been rising in the polls, and putting up very impressive fundraising numbers, and for the media tour that you have been doing, that is making everybody learn how to say your name. Sir, thank you for being here. I want to ask you about an element of your resume and your background that is rare.

There's this gigantic field of Democratic candidates -- it's literally like two baseball teams at this point -- you guys could play each other -- but besides you and Tulsi Gabbard, there aren't Democrats running thus far who have military experience.

You'd enlisted at the age of 26, 27?

A: Right around then, yeah.

Q: After grad school?

A: That's right.

Q: Can you talk about your decision about why they do that? Why did you pick the Navy? What were you--

A: There had always been a kind of family military tradition, but I always had some excuse for not serving at any particular moment. When I was in college, I was in college, when I got the chance to study overseas. I was tied up in that, although there were several Americans at Oxford who were in my class at Rhodes Scholars who are graduates of the Naval Academy. And I just admire those those people so much that it made me think a little harder.

The thing to put me over the edge was actually a campaign visit, I was knocking on doors as volunteer for Barack Obama in some very low income, very rural counties in Iowa, and was blown away by how many times I would knock on the door, talk to a young person who is on their way to basic training or on their way into recruitment. And I began to realize just how stark the class and regional divides had become, that I could count on one hand, the number of people I knew at a place like Harvard, who had gone on to serve.

And I began to feel like I was part of a problem. You know, I grew up on the tradition of people like John F. Kennedy, a young John F. Kennedy, experienced in military service, the most probably racially integrated environment that he could have been in at the time, found himself on equal terms with the sons of farmers and laborers from the Midwest.

George H.W. Bush, same thing as the signs of wealthy and powerful families, these was expected of them that they would serve. And it helped them get to know people with different backgrounds, I was by no means the sign of a wealthy or powerful family. But I did have the -- the privilege of this amazing education and again, began to think like maybe that's a reason I should be contributing and should be as liable to getting called up as anybody else in this country, rather than one more thing that kind of separates me the other people I knew from my region or my hometown who had served.

So I went in for the commission in -- in intelligence in 2009, I thought -- I'd studied Arabic, I thought that might be useful, later came back to me that the recruiter wrote down that I had studied aerobics,

Q: Which would also be useful...

A: … wound up as a command fitness leader fight, I suppose would have been useful, but I'm really glad I did get the chance to serve, it helped me connect with very different Americans, people. Especially when I was deployed to Afghanistan, who had almost nothing in common with different politics, different generation, different racially, different regionally, but you learn to trust each other with your life, because that's what the job is requires.

And I want more Americans to have that. But I don't want you to have to go to war to get it. It's one of the reasons I think national service will hopefully become one of the themes of the 2020 campaign, because we really want to talk about the threat to social cohesion, that -- that helps characterize this presidency, but also just this era.

And one thing we could do that would help change that would be to make it -- if not legally obligatory -- then certainly a social norm, that anybody after they're 18, spends a year in -- in national service, so that afterwards, whether it's civilian or military, it's the first question on your college application.

If you're applying for college, or it’s the first question, when you're being interviewed for a job if you're going right into the workforce. Now, to do that, we're gonna have to create more service opportunities, and we're gonna have to find a way to fund it. But I think it's worth approaching.

Q: I feel like that that point, and you discussing those those difficulties with it. Sort of strikes me on that, this always always really resonated with me, the civilian military divide that you're talking about is something that I've been interested in a very long time.

I wrote a book about it. And it's something that I have struggled with, because the easy answer is that there should be a draft. And the easy answer, that there should be a draft is easy and sounds like a great solution. Everybody except the military, who doesn't particularly want to deal with a lot of conscripts, who don't want to be there, because it's a highest of high skills, high tech environment, voluntary, voluntary service professionals. But this idea of national service, that's not necessarily a draft, I've heard so many smart people, left, right and center, talk about that for the last 15 years.

And I feel like it's this constant drawing board idea. And nobody ever, you know, somebody pilots a thing here, are pilots a thing there, there's doesn't seem to be any appetite for the federal level in terms of actually making it happen. Because it will involve some sort of level of raising expectations, if not creating a mandate for people. And we see wired as a country to reject that at every level, I don't have faith that something like that ever gets off the drawing board.

A: Well, I think it's a bit like some of the democratic reforms who were talking about earlier. It's one of these ideas that everybody kind of likes. But it is always important and never urgent, right?

I mean, how would that ever kind of hold its own in a policy debate where we're dealing with kids in cages, and we got to deal with with climate change? They're all these pressing burning issues. But again, one of the things I'm trying to have us have a conversation about are what are the conditions that made this moment -- this presidency possible? And one of them, I think, is a fraying and the social cohesion that we experience.

And so some of that kind of stewardship -- kind of housekeeping of our society -- I think requires direct policy intervention, that to me, makes something like what national service could bring us, a little more urgent than we maybe have given it credit for.

I get the obstacles, I get that it would be challenging. But if we made it more of a priority, I think we could establish that as a norm. By the time that my kids are going to college.

Q: Are you gonna have kids?

A: Hope so.

Q: Do you have any plans?

A: You know, this whole running for president thing has kind of slowed down the path a little bit,

Q: But you guys are talking about it?

A: Yeah, Chasten, my husband is -- he's made for a lot of things. He's a great educator, he's, he's become a great public figure, kind of coming out of the gate. But he's also going to be an amazing father. And I can't wait to see him. I hope I'll be good at it too. But -- but I can't wait to see him have that chance.

Q: Well, let me I want I want to talk about a lot of these things in more depth. But on -- on that point, actually, let me ask you, and I will acknowledge at the end, this is an awkward question. I was a Rhodes Scholar too. I went up in 1995. You went up a decade later. So I was the first openly gay American Rhodes scholar, and I got there and I had come out in college. So I applied for the road scholarship as an openly gay person, it definitely came up in the selection process. And then I got there. And I learned that I was the first American who had never been out well, but that was a decade before you. And you went through college, and then the Rhodes Scholarship process and getting the Rhodes Scholarship and going to work for McKinsey, and joining the Navy and deploying Afghanistan, and coming home and running for mayor in your hometown, and getting elected before you came out at the age of 33.

A: Yeah.

Q: And I, I bring this up. And I acknowledge it's a difficult question not because it's bad that you didn't come out until you were 33. But I think it would have killed me to be closeted for that long. I just think about what it takes as a human being to know something, and to have to bifurcate your public life. And for you to have had all of those difficult transitions and experiences and to be aiming as high as you were, all of that time and not coming out till your early 30s… I just wonder if that was hurtful -- to you. If it hurt you to do it?

A: It was hard. It was really hard.

Q: Coming out is hard. But being in the closet is harder.

A: Yeah, no, that's what I mean. I mean, it wasn't it was, first of all, it took me plenty of time to come out to myself. So I did not the way you did, or the way my husband did, figure out at such an early age that I probably should have. I mean, there's certain plenty, plenty of indications by the time I was 15 or so that I could point back and be like, yeah. This kid’s gay. But I guess I just really needed to not be.

And you know, there's this war that breaks out, I think inside a lot of people when they realize that they might be something they're afraid of. And it took me a very long time to resolve that. I did make sure as a kind of final way of coming out to myself, to come out to at least a couple of people in my life, before I took office, because I didn't want to have that kind of psychological pressure of at least not being out to somebody,

Q: But you swore them to secrecy or you --

A: They understood, yeah, this was a very sensitive thing. They also pointed out as your friends do, you know, patting you on the back that I hadn't really made it made it easy on myself, because at that point professionally, I had two things in my life that really mattered to me professionally.

One of them was being an officer in the military and the Reserve, and the other was being an elected official, in Indiana. Neither of which is exactly LGBT-friendly. In fact, both of which I assumed were totally, totally incompatible with being out.

And both of which were very meaningful. One of the risks that I think people with meaningful jobs have, especially people in politics actually, is because your job is meaningful, a lot of the meaning in your life comes from your job, which is a real problem. Because part of what is needed I think, to be good at your job in politics, is to have something worth worth more to you than winning. You know, you have to be ready to walk away from that job in order to deserve it. But I did get a lot of meaning from that work.