In an exclusive interview with LGBTQ Nation, former presidential candidate and mayor Pete Buttigieg reassured anxious voters that the turmoil of the past four years could finally be drawing to a close.
“The most important message to the community is that help is on the way, and we’re trying to make sure we see that through,” Buttigieg tells us between campaign stops in Michigan to stump for Joe Biden on Sunday. “The most powerful thing we can do right now is to vote.”
Buttigieg tempered the hopefulness of his message with a realistic assessment of what is at stake in the election. “I’m very worried about our rights,” he said. “I try to remind people time and time again that no gain is permanent, no gain is secure. There’s reason to be worried, especially when you have [Supreme Court Justices] Alito and Thomas announce smoke signals that they would even put something as basic as marriage back on the table, to say nothing of our chances of actually moving the ball forward.”
As an emissary from the Biden campaign to LGBTQ voters, Buttigieg carries a special cache. As the first gay presidential candidate who excited the media and fellow Democrats, Buttigieg ran a historic campaign that awakened the possibility of an out president in the not-too-distant future.
After winning the Iowa caucuses, his campaign faded. However, his (along with Amy Klobuchar’s) endorsement of Biden was key to the party consolidating around the former vice president as its nominee. He’s now part of Biden’s transition team for the White House.
Buttigieg promises that a Biden victory will not only restore some of the losses the community suffered under Trump, but will advance rights as well.
“In a Biden administration, we can look forward to the federal Equality Act [being passed] and everything that comes with the mechanics of that,” says Buttigieg. “We can expect to see that four years from now there will be more balance than there is right now and very specific things about international adoption, equality in health care, guidance to schools that’s trans-inclusive, data gathering, and immigration.”
Moreover, Buttigieg emphasizes Biden’s campaign slogan to “Build Back Better” as a guide to how the nominee would restore the federal government. “Let’s build upon what’s been broken better than anything we’ve ever done,” says Buttigieg.
Should Trump lose, some observers are worried that he won’t relinquish office. Trump himself has said as much. Buttigieg is more optimistic, especially if Democrats win overwhelming victories across races. Buttigieg has his own political action committee, Win the Era, which focuses on down-ballot races.
“Part of what’s going to matter is for us to not only to win back the White House but other offices,” says Buttigieg. “It sends a message to the GOP in the only language they understand, the language of power. If they come to realize that coming on board with Trump was a deal with the devil that they should not have made, they will be less inclined” to enable Trump to hang onto power.
Still, Buttigieg is under no illusions about the damage Trump and his administration can do between now and a Biden inauguration.
“I would be ready for a lot of rear-guard actions to burn the house down,” he says bluntly. “We have all the business by executive action that can be reversed in most cases, but they will try to lock in whatever changes that they can.”
Nor will Trump or Trumpism disappear overnight. “We’re talking about the forces that have been unleashed that will be with us a long time,” says Buttigieg.
In the long term, the changes necessary to correct the abuses of the modern-day GOP go beyond just winning elections. Long before Republicans jammed Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court, Buttigieg was talking about structural reforms both to the Supreme Court and the Electoral College. (As a reminder, Democrats have won the popular vote four out of the past six elections, but won the White House only twice.)
“When I was talking about some of these things a year and a half ago, people looked at me funny,” Buttigieg recalls. “Now I think there’s more of a national conversation about it, seeing all the ways the GOP Senate’s manipulation of the court really cries out for reform.”
In the meantime, Buttigieg is urging voters to cast their ballots if they haven’t already and to reach out to their family members to convince them to support Biden as well. That’s something the power of which he knows from his husband’s experience.
“Chasten has had some very moving conversations with family members of his, saying ‘I know you usually vote Republican, but my rights are on the line, and I need you’,” says Buttigieg. “They will do that for you, people that love you. I hope no one underestimates the power of that, to move somebody.”