Metro Weekly

Pete Buttigieg calls Mike Pence a “cheerleader for the porn star presidency”

South Bend mayor says fight over Indiana's RFRA law changed his views of vice president

Pete Buttigieg

Openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg took a swipe at Vice President Mike Pence’s purported religious beliefs and moral values, wondering aloud how he could support Donald Trump’s “porn star presidency.”

Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., made the remarks during a CNN town hall on Sunday night at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, where a voter asked about whether Pence’s religious views, particularly on the issue of sexuality, were similar to the beliefs held by the average voter in Indiana, or an aberration.

“Please don’t judge my state by our former governor,” Buttigieg replied, evoking laughter from the mostly Democratic-leaning audience. “I think those views are so out of line with where anybody is.

“And look, I’ve got to tell you, this was kind of a difficult journey for a lot of people,” he added. “If you were conservative, and you’re from an older generation, and you were brought up by people you trusted to believe it was morally wrong to be, for example, in a same-sex marriage, and then the pace of change has happened so quickly — I’ve benefited from the pace of that change, but I also understand how disorienting it must be for people to have gone through that.”

Buttigieg then explained how he thought Pence had “divided” the state of Indiana by pushing for passage of the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Buttigieg said “was really a license to discriminate, provided you remembered to mention your religion as an excuse for discriminating.” But, Buttigieg said, in response, Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as members of the state’s business community, denounced the law’s passage and called for its repeal.

“[T]hat shows me that there is just a belief in decency, that really does stand against that kind of social extremism,” the presidential hopeful said. “And my hope is that same decency can be summoned from our communities, in red states and blue states, to change what’s happening in the politics of our country before it’s too late.”

Buttigieg previously enjoyed a relatively strong working relationship with Pence, a devout Christian, during vice president’s tenure as Indiana’s governor, despite their disagreements on social issues. But Buttigieg been more vocal about criticizing his former governor since announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee in January. 

CNN host Jake Tapper then asked Buttigieg if he thought Pence would be a better or worse president than President Trump.

“Does it have to be between those two?” Buttigieg replied after a pained pause where he rubbed his face.

“Politics is about choices, man, you know that,” Tapper responded.

Pete Buttigieg makes a face while pausing to answer the question of whether Pence would be a better president than Donald Trump – Photo: CNN.

“I mean, I don’t know. It’s really strange,” Buttigieg said. “Because I used to at least believe that he believed in our — I’ve disagreed with him ferociously on these things — but I thought, well, at least he believes in our institutions, and he’s not personally corrupt. But then, how could he get on board with this presidency?

“How could somebody who — you know, his interpretation of scripture is pretty different from mine to begin with,” he added. “Okay, my understanding of scripture is that it is about protecting the stranger and the prisoner and the poor person and that idea of welcome. That’s what I get in the Gospel when I’m in church. And his has a lot more to do with sexuality and, I don’t know, a certain view of rectitude.

“But even if you buy into that, how could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?” Buttigieg concluded. “Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump? I don’t know, I don’t know.”

The “porn star presidency” refers to Trump’s alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Clifford revealed last year that she and Trump had an affair in 2006, after he married his third wife, First Lady Melania Trump, and she gave birth to their son, Barron. Trump has denied that any such affair took place, but admitted he knew about payments made to Daniels to stop her from publicly speaking about the alleged affair.

For his part, Buttigieg said in a separate sit-down interview at South by Southwest with journalist Ana Marie Cox that his view of Pence radically changed after Pence signed the RFRA law into effect.

In that interview, Buttigieg told Cox he used to believe Pence was someone he could work with on bipartisan initiatives to help improve the economy and quality of life in South Bend. But after Pence embraced discrimination, Buttigieg said: “You could just see, there was just this look in his eyes, that he was now in a place where somebody like me could never reach him.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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