South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Monday night in his first appearance as a Democratic presidential candidate.
“It has been quite a ride for you,” Noah remarked. “It’s been a whirlwind.”
Noah noted that only a few months ago, few people in the country knew Buttigieg’s name. Now, South Bend’s mayor is ranked third in some polls of Democratic presidential candidates.
When asked why he thinks that his candidacy has caught the attention of the media and voters, Buttigieg responds that “I think it’s all the same reasons that made my candidacy unlikely,” citing his role as an outsider, a mayor from the industrial Midwest, and a young 37-year-old Millennial who would easily be the youngest president in the history of the United States if elected in 2020.
Noah remarked that it’s almost as if Buttigieg were created in a lab to run for president: a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar, an openly gay veteran who is also openly religious, and hailing from the politically-competitive Midwest.
“It’s almost like you’ve come about at a time when society is at a place [where it can support a candidate like Buttigieg],” Noah remarked.
“No other time in the last 200 years would somebody like me fit in a presidential campaign,” Buttigieg responded, before pivoting and rhetorically asking “What does it call for in this moment?”
“This is a moment that just might call for someone like me,” Buttigieg suggested, answering his own question.
After brief applause from the audience, Noah noted that three weeks ago he asked Bernie Sanders if he was too old to run for president. “Do you think that you are too young to be president?”
“I don’t think so,” Buttigieg responded. “The age to run for president was settled by the Founders. It’s 35. It’s in the Constitution – but also around the world, you see leaders who are roughly my age,” pointing to the prime minister in New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who was sworn in at age 37.
“It’s a moment that’s calling for a new generation,” Buttigieg suggested, continuing a theme of generational change that will likely be pounded throughout the campaign against the two leading Democrats running for president – Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden – who are 77 and 76, respectively.
Noah followed up noting that some in the media have argued that Buttigieg is benefiting from white male privilege. Both Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, for example, have put out more detailed policy positions so far. Warren especially has gained attention for bold plans to combat student debt, break up monopolistic industries, and challenge Wall Street power.
“Do you think you’re benefitting from that, or do you think there’s something else that gets the people going, that puts you in the spotlight?” Noah asked.
“I’d like to believe it’s my qualities and my message, but I’ve been reflecting on this,” Buttigieg said. “Because one of the things about white privilege and male privilege is that you don’t think about it very much.”
Reflecting on his success so far, he suggested that he was not sure if the momentum would last and conceded that being a white male was an advantage.
“I do think it’s simply harder for candidates of color or for female candidates, and I’m very mindful of that,” noting that he viewed the other candidates as competitors and not opponents. “Each of us needs to compete based on what we have to offer.”
Moving on to policy and noting President Obama’s push for healthcare reform, Noah asked Buttigieg what his top priority would be on day one in the Oval Office.
“I think day one you launch a package of democratic reforms to strengthen our democracy,” Buttigieg suggested before going on to say that it would be a long-term project. Buttigieg cited making voter registration easier, abolishing the Electoral College, and creating a commission to recommend measures to de-politicize Supreme Court appointments.
“We ought to give the presidency to whoever gets the most votes.”
While the ’60s and ’70s saw the lowering of the voting age to 18 and a push for the Equal Rights Amendment, Buttigieg said that the country was in a “drought” when it came to structural reform.
Noah changed directions slightly with his next question and asked Buttigieg how he would appeal to Trump voters. Noting that many of Donald Trump’s voters also voted for Barack Obama, the two-term mayor suggested reaching out to disgruntled Trump voters on issues like climate change, where the Trump administration has taken an aggressive stance in favor of carbon-heavy polluters while ignoring scientific evidence and historic flooding in Midwestern cities like South Bend, more frequent and severe hurricanes, and ravaging wildfires in the American West.
“The more we can make it concrete like that, the more it’s not only politically effective but I also think philosophically better. Because if we can’t explain or validate a policy in terms of how it’s going to make our everyday, personal lives actually better, then why are we even out here?”
Editor’s Note: Buttigieg also took questions from the audience in an unaired segment posted on YouTube. Watch it below: