South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg shrugged off insults President Donald Trump has lobbed at him over Twitter and in a recent interview, saying he just didn’t care.
The comments by Buttigieg came Sunday evening during a live town hall event in New Hampshire hosted by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on his network. Earlier in the day the president tweeted that “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems. They got dumped from the Democrats boring debates, and they just want in.”
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But Buttigieg said that didn’t get under his skin.
“The tweets are … I don’t care,” Buttigieg said, triggering applause from the audience at Stevens High School. “It’s a very effective way to command the attention of the media and I think that we need to make sure that we’re changing the channel from this show that he’s created. Because what matters — and I get it, look, it’s mesmerizing and hard for anyone to look away. Me too. It is the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away.”
The comments and the the loud applause came during one of the more lively exchanges in the wide-ranging event, which also featured biographical footage of the mayor from Indiana. It also underscored the approach Buttigieg has taken in dealing with Trump and Fox News, an approach that contrasts with some other Democratic presidential candidates.
By appearing on Fox News, Buttigieg — who’s quickly risen from an almost complete unknown to one of the top-tier Democratic 2020 candidates — further introduced himself to an audience that might otherwise not know him.
Buttigieg is one of the few 2020 prominent Democratic presidential candidates to do a Fox News town hall so far, following in the footsteps of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Others, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have declined to participate in a town hall with the network, which has traditionally been unsympathetic to liberals. The Democratic National Committee has said it will not hold debates on Fox News.
A day before the town hall, Buttigieg sent out a fundraising email titled, “Why I’m going on Fox News” saying: “If we ignore the viewers of Fox News and every news platform that doesn’t share our worldview, we will surrender our ability to speak directly to millions of American voters.”
Buttigieg, in responding to Wallace’s question about Trump’s tweet, generalized the scope of his response.
“Every time that we’re looking at the show and the latest tweet and the latest insult, what we’re not looking at is the fact that we’re the ones trying to get you a raise and they’re the ones blocking it,” Buttigieg said of Democrats working in opposition to the Trump administration.
“We’re the ones trying to preserve your healthcare and they’re the ones trying to take it away,“ Buttigieg said. “We are the ones who are actually prepared to deliver on something like paid family leave and they’re against it. Their positions, as a general rule, are unpopular, and as we focus on what’s going to happen in your life. In other words if we make it less about him or about you, paradoxically, I think that’s actually the best way to defeat him.”
Buttigieg also criticized some of the more prominent hosts on the network.
“The other thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to find people where they are. A lot of folks in my party were critical of me for even doing this. And I get where that’s coming from,” Buttigieg said.
“I mean when you’ve got Tucker Carlson saying immigrants make America dirty … you’ve got Laura Ingraham comparing detention centers with children in cages to summer camps. Summer. Camps. Then there is a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem.”
To someone who doesn’t regularly watch Fox News, the setting might have been surprising. The audience was receptive to some of the most liberal lines Buttigieg offered and despite some crosstalk between the host and the South Bend mayor, the interactions were fairly cordial.
The discussion also touched on abortion, when Buttigieg was asked how he would protect reproductive rights as president. That question came a few days after Alabama enacted a highly restrictive abortion law that top Republican Party leaders have said goes further in some respects than they would prefer.
Buttigieg, in answering the abortion question, did not refrain from offering his support for abortion rights.
“Being a Democrat with pro-choice values who lives and governs in Indiana I get that there are lots of passionate views on this … Even some of my supporters believe differently than I believe,” Buttigieg said. “But that’s what I believe and I believe that the next president needs to be ready to protect those rights. First of all, and the simplest thing, is appointing judges and justices who recognize that that is part of American freedom. Another is to make sure that we’re not starving America of resources — not just for that kind of reproductive care, abortion care.”
Trump himself, in an interview taped before the town hall on Fox News with Steve Hilton, was asked about Buttigieg running as an openly gay candidate. Trump said he didn’t care about the mayor’s sexuality but still snickered at pronouncing the South Bend mayor’s name.