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Pete Buttigieg Says Donald Trump Is 'Least Qualified Of All' Candidates In 2020 Race

Pete Buttigieg says he understands "the daunting nature" of the presidency. He touts his executive experience as a twice-elected mayor of South Bend, Ind., giving him an advantage over other Democratic presidential candidates, particularly those who serve in Congress.

And three years into the current administration, Buttigieg proclaims that of the candidates running for the White House in 2020, President Trump is the "least qualified of all."

In a wide-ranging interview with NPR's Scott Simon as part of the network's Off Script series of interviews with 2020 presidential candidates, Buttigieg was asked whether running a city with roughly 100,000 residents is enough experience for arguably the most powerful job in the world.

"Look, I get the daunting nature of the office," Buttigieg says. "It's also the case that none of the candidates for the presidency right now has been president, except one, Donald Trump, who I think is the least qualified of all."

Buttigieg also says "being newer on the scene" and not having spent "too much time in Washington" are pluses for his candidacy.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg is interviewed at Pegg's Diner in South Bend, Indiana.
/ Lucy Hewett for NPR
Lucy Hewett for NPR
Mayor Pete Buttigieg is interviewed at Pegg's Diner in South Bend, Indiana.

"You could also be a very tenured member of Congress. You could be a very senior senator in the United States and have never in your life been responsible for more than 100 people, depending on what you were doing before," Buttigieg says.

He adds while voting on legislation is "very important," it differs from the responsibility of running a city, which he says "gives you a sense of the challenges that are confronting Americans on the ground."

The interview with the man who is affectionately referred to as "Mayor Pete" by supporters, took place Wednesday at a South Bend restaurant called Peggs, which specializes in breakfast fare.

Buttigieg has seen his standing among primary voters steadily rise in recent presidential surveys, particularly in Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 3.

At 17.5%, Buttigieg is trailing only Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is receiving roughly 22% in Iowa according to Real Clear Politics average of polls.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday has Buttigieg faring even better — showing him and Warren in a statistical tie — with the senator receiving 20% approval from likely caucusgoers and the mayor coming in at 19%.

Two other candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden round out a crowded top tier in the Quinnipiac poll receiving 17% and 15% respectively.

Although Buttigieg speaks multiple languages and had deployed to Afghanistan for several months as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves, Simon raised the notion that foreign policy is an area where Buttigieg does not have "a lot of direct experience."

Buttigieg disagreed. "I care deeply about these issues," he says. "As somebody who experienced foreign policy in the form of being sent into a war," Buttigieg asserts, he has firsthand knowledge of what is at stake in the country's international relationships.

He says he wants a foreign policy that benefits the United States' standing in the world, but also helps Americans back home.

"If we're getting it right on trade, if we're getting right on security, if we're getting it right on our values, if we're getting it right on immigration, then that benefits our communities," Buttigieg says.

Buttigieg, who if elected would be the first openly gay president, was asked how he reassures voters who may have reservations about him being married to his husband Chasten.

Simon pointed to a recent article in The New York Times describing how Buttigieg's marriage to a man may make some voters hesitant (in the case of the Timespiece, it was African Americans in South Carolina) about supporting his candidacy.

Buttigieg says he understands many Americans have been raised with socially conservative values. But he says he tries to connect with those who may be put off by his sexual orientation by appealing to their sense of compassion and fairness.

"[It] might be difficult for some people who have seen a shockingly fast pace of change from just a few years ago, when they may have been brought up to reject who I am," Buttigieg says, but adds, "I think the question that voters are asking is 'How's my life going to be different if you're president?' "

He says he is confident he is up for the task.

"In order to earn votes, my job is to go out there and answer that question," he says. "And I think a lot of that other stuff falls away."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.