Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been making waves in the early 2020 Democratic presidential primary, pulling into third place in a couple of recent state polls. And as the first gay mainstream candidate for a major party nomination, he has embraced both his sexual orientation and his religion — drawing a sharp contrast with the views of Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence, who was governor of Indiana while Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend, has pushed for “religious freedom” laws that would give businesses license to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And Buttigieg has highlighted the vice president’s anti-LGBTQ views recently in his campaign, arguing that if Pence has any problem with his being gay, “Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
The vice president has responded to these remarks, saying they “worked very closely together” and “I considered him a friend.”
“I think Pete’s quarrel is with the First Amendment,” Pence told CNN. “All of us in this country have the right to our religious beliefs. I’m a Bible-believing Christian.”
Pence later concluded: “He’d do well to reflect on the importance of respecting the freedom of religion of every American.”
Speaking with talk show host Ellen Degeneres, Buttigieg responded.
“I’m not critical of his faith,” Buttigieg said. “I’m critical of bad policies. I don’t have a problem with religion — I’m religious too. I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people. Especially in the LGBTQ community. So many people, even today, feel like they don’t belong. You can get fired in so many parts of this country just for who you are. And that’s got to change.”
He added: “And I’m not interested in feuding with the vice president. And if he wanted to clear this up, he could come out today and say he’s changed his mind, that it shouldn’t be legal to discriminate against anybody in this country for who they are. That’s all.”
It was a smart answer that allowed Buttigieg to bring up his personal faith while also hitting the Pence on an issue where he’s vulnerable. When Pence pushed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, there was an immediate backlash, and the then-governor was forced to back down. Buttigieg is savvy to focus on polices and say he’s not “feuding” with the vice president — but he knows exactly what he’s doing.
He’s made a splash in the primary thus far, gained in the polls, and the danger is that he’ll flame out quickly and become another forgettable candidate. By choosing to draw Pence into a debate, forcing the vice president to respond, Buttigieg elevates his own standing. In the process, Democrats will seem him taking on an unpopular member of the Trump administration on an issue where Buttigieg is clearly in the right. He may be new to national politics, but Buttigieg knows how the game is played.
Watch the clip below: