Pete Buttigieg is confident that the United States is on the verge of a watershed moment in history. The question Americans need to ask themselves, he says, is what direction they want to go in a post-Trump era.
“There’s also a lot of energy for generational change,” Buttigieg said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Tuesday. “We’re in this tectonic moment where things are changing around us. I think it’s as big a moment as the beginning of the FDR era, and I mean not just his presidency, but the 30, 40, 50 years of the New Deal consensus — or, for that matter, the beginning of the Reagan era ... and now something completely different is coming. It could be enlightened. It could be ugly, and people are looking for leadership that takes the long view.”
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., believes that he might be that leader who can usher in a new generation into politics. He's not alone in that thinking — the latest poll from CNN has Buttigieg tied with Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for third place, behind front runners former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Once a relatively unknown politician from the Midwest, Buttigieg says he’s been pleasantly surprised at the meteoric success of his campaign.
“Honestly, this is not the trajectory we were expecting,” said Buttigieg, who officially announced his candidacy on April 14. “We thought we’d be spending the second quarter of this year mostly just making the case that we belong in this conversation.”
In a race that has been defined by bold policy proposals for things like universal health care, a wealth tax and a universal basic income, Buttigieg believes his success will lie in being a unifying voice who tempers the aspirations of some of his Democratic colleagues with a brand of pragmatism he says he developed while mayor.
Though Buttigieg has no policies listed on his website and has been vague about what he’d do in office, he said that he’s in favor of raising taxes, creating a more robust federal student loan forgiveness program for those in public service, making community college free, and making four-year public universities free for low-income individuals.
“I believe that we do need to have higher taxes for some who are not paying their share,” Buttigieg said. “That probably means a combination of things, like adjusted marginal income tax rates, some form of wealth tax, some form of financial transaction tax ought to be contemplated.”
When it comes to healthcare, however, Buttigieg said he was skeptical of the proposed Medicare for All bill in Congress. While universal health care is a goal of his, he said he believes it’s more pragmatic to create a public option to compete with private insurance rather than building a new system that eliminates private insurance, as the Medicare for All bill proposes.
“I believe in universal healthcare. I believe in getting to a Medicare for All destination, which is where I want us to go,” Buttigieg said. “I think whenever a politician says those words, we also have a responsibility to explain how you get there. I don’t think it's as simple as just declaring that it will be so.”
One proposal that Buttigieg expressed an interest in on Tuesday was reforming the Supreme Court to possibly include 15 justices — five of whom are nominated by the other 10. Buttigieg admitted that it was a departure from the norm, but he said that the politicization of the modern Court merits innovative reforms.
“[This proposal is] not to pull [the Court] to the left because it’s become too conservative — although it has become too conservative — but to stop this slide of the Court toward being viewed [as] a nakedly political institution,” Buttigieg said. “I believe that as president, we need to launch a conversation and a process to arrive at a reform that will take the political stakes down in these nomination contests so they’re not always these apocalyptic ideological fights.”
Buttigieg received a warm reception at the Boston Public Library, with dozens of spectators packed in to hear him speak.
Read more: Pete Buttigieg On Boston Public Radio
Although Buttigieg’s popularity has been on the rise nationally, some progressives in Massachusetts say he is too light on policy and too moderate for who they would like to see occupy the White House in 2021.
“That we have a millennial candidate in this race and an openly gay candidate in this race is a good thing and speaks to the historic diversity of the field,” said Jonathan Cohn, co-chair of the issues committee of Progressive Massachusetts. “That said, although Pete Buttigieg has been willing to stake out bold positions on the Electoral College and the Supreme Court, and has an optimism many find refreshing, he's positioned himself to the right of the field with his opposition to Medicare for All and tuition-free college. He has yet to release any marquee policies, which he really needs to do if he wants to show that a mayor of a city of just over 100,000 can be the president of a country of more than 320 million.”
Though he’s still far from the lead for the nomination, one thing is certain for Buttigieg: President Donald Trump has to leave office.
“I think it will be valuable for this president to be defeated resoundingly at the ballot box because it is the last hope we will have of Republicans coming to their senses,” Buttigieg said. “If they are not punished politically for what they have done, which goes against not only our values but their own, if they’re not punished politically for that we will never have the Republican Party regroup and become — while I might never agree to them — the more decent and consistent and coherent party that we need them to be.”