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For a presidential candidate, a campaign is a state of continuous motion, a blur of rallies, interviews, strategy sessions and fund-raisers. Meals happen in cars and buses — if they happen at all. Exercise is a luxury. And sleep? Well, sometimes.
Over the course of three weeks, Pete Buttigieg went from the nonstop pace of his nearly 15-month presidential bid to a dead halt, after he quit the Democratic race and Indiana shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
It wasn’t the post-campaign period that Mr. Buttigieg, or anyone really, had planned.
That Mr. Buttigieg, who entered the race at age 37 and was the second-youngest presidential candidate in modern American history, has a political future ahead of him seems clear. The question is, What will it look like? (For all you trivia lovers, former Gov. Jerry Brown of California was a few months younger than Mr. Buttigieg when he ran in the 1976 Democratic primary race.)
Mr. Buttigieg has begun dropping a few clues from his quarantine in South Bend. Last week, he released the first slate of endorsements from his new political action committee, Win the Era. He’s been doing some virtual events for Joe Biden. His husband, Chasten, is writing a memoir.
We talked to Mr. Buttigieg about campaign regrets, how he’s spending his days and what he might do next. (As usual, our conversation has been edited and condensed.)
Hi. Thanks so much for speaking with me. I can’t imagine getting off the high-speed train that is a presidential campaign and then coming into quarantine.
They talk about going from 60 miles an hour to zero, but we really went to zero in terms of physical motion. But one of the things we’re learning is there really are lots of ways to do things and be involved. You just have to be imaginative about how to do them while you’re in the four walls of your house.
Where are you quarantining?
I’m at home in South Bend. I’ve probably spent more time in this house in the last two months than I have since I bought it a decade ago. We definitely set an all-time record for the most meals we’ve cooked and eaten at the dining room table, which is great, because for the last year and a half most of my meals were in vehicles.
I have to say, I picture you being irritatingly productive during this time at home, like learning Greek or taking up the viola.
Maybe not that productive. I’ve upped my Rosetta Stone subscription and I’m getting behind the piano a little more. But there’s a lot more TV watching going on, too, so it all balances out.
We got pretty deep into “Westworld.” I know I’m like five years late on that. We’re starting to get into this show “Upload.”
That’s kind of a dark, dystopian pick.
It’s kind of philosophical. I’m not sure I’m ready for anything that hard-hitting. I’m going back to “Veep” now, too. It was a little too close to home for me to enjoy it earlier, but now I really get a kick out of it.
So, between the television shows, you’ve had a little time to think about your campaign. What’s the thing you’re most proud of and the thing you most regret?
Even now, I’m a little close to it to have a fully objective take. But the thing I’m proudest of is that we really were able to create a sense of belonging for so many people, to send a message that this could be a country where everyone belongs. Of course, I’ll always be thinking about things we might have done differently or could have done better.
And it’s so important to me to make sure that any message I put forward is one where everybody sees themselves and that reaches the broadest possible base of voters and supporters. That, I think, is the basic objective of any campaign and something I would want to grow anytime I return to electoral politics.
You had a pretty impressive run. You’re still a young guy. What do you see as your political role right now?
Essentially, it’s to make myself useful. So to me, right now, there are really two big lines of effort — the first, of course, to do everything in my power to help get Joe Biden elected president.
And then it’s practicing what I always preach, that we can’t treat the presidency as the only office that matters. So that’s where Win the Era comes in. I’m really excited about these 22 candidates that we’ve announced in our first wave of endorsements because it’s a chance to be present in races around the country.
I’m very excited about some of the people who are not as well known, like we’re backing a young candidate named Jevin Hodge in Arizona, who’s running for Maricopa County supervisor. The county supervisor is a great example of one of these unsexy offices that have a lot of influence on people’s lives. Frankly, across my lifetime, conservatives tended to pay more attention to state and local office than my party did. We now know not to make that mistake.
On one hand, we’re seeing just how important state and local and other offices are in addition to the White House because of all the things that are going on in the pandemic response, and seeing how much it matters who your governor is, and being reminded that elections are run by state and county officials. And on the other hand, the paradox is, there’s less oxygen than ever, less attention than ever, for any campaign besides the presidential.
You talked during your campaign about moving beyond the traditional political battle lines. That was before the coronavirus. Where’s your sense on where both parties are going now?
I think this will lead to profound realignments, but they may be hard to predict. Unfortunately, there’s not been a lot of evidence that this means that polarization is dissolving — at least, not yet. But what we do see, I think, is an awareness that this moment is going to require really big solutions.
When you think back to a moment like the New Deal, the New Deal didn’t happen because it was cooked up on a campaign trail and then delivered intact once F.D.R. got elected. They were responding to this urgent cataclysmic situation of the Depression. Sometimes, in this case, being very pragmatic will also mean being ideologically bold at the same time.
How do you think Democrats need to adjust their ambitions? Are there things you proposed in the campaign that you would change, if you were running now?
Some things are just reinforced. So something like the idea of national service was a big part of our campaign. And I think it’s more urgent than ever because we’re going to, frankly, need it in order to deliver on things like contact tracing and probably vaccine delivery.
Other things we need to rethink — in particular, when it comes to debt, both individual and national.
Individually, my enthusiasm for debt relief was always limited to cases where there had really been a lot of clear wrongdoing, like these for-profit colleges. I think now we’ve got to reconsider the overall debt load that any individual or household might have, given how much economic danger everybody’s in.
And then nationally, I never believed in austerity, but I always did think that Democrats needed to talk more about deficit-related issues. This is the moment where that’s just not the most important concern right now, like a wartime scenario. We will not regret having turned to deficit spending in order to prevent a total catastrophe, especially knowing that interest rates are low now.
Do you think the United States is leading in this moment?
The U.S. is not leading. For example, the W.H.O. proceedings this week, right? China sees a chance to consolidate their influence and look like the big-thinking player, while the U.S. is allowing them to capture that advantage by sending a very junior delegation and making it sound like we’re going to take our ball and go home.
It’s one more area where [President Trump] has reduced us to basically just another country out there scrapping for advantage, when we could be restoring some of our credibility by helping lead the world through the biggest challenge we’ve seen in my lifetime.
Well, if Joe Biden wins, that could be part of your job. Would you be open to joining the cabinet?
Of course, I want to do anything I can to make myself useful. And if that means a return to public service, I would welcome the chance to do that. But right now, I’m very much focused on getting from here to there and making sure that we have the right president elected in November.
Any cabinet job you think you could be particularly good at?
Well, right now, I think any energy I would use on thinking thoughts like that is better spent making myself useful to candidates from the V.P. on down.
Do you have thoughts on what kind of person the former vice president should pick as his V.P.?
It would be a little silly for me to offer advice to somebody who understands the vice presidency probably better than any person alive today, right? It was a good decision for him to prioritize gender balance. I’m glad he did that. There are going to be a lot of great leaders to choose from, and I’m sure he’ll make the right choice.
If you’re not part of a Biden administration, how do you see yourself spending the next few years?
First of all, continuing to back candidates and causes I believe in. But also in terms of issues, making sure that I’m present in conversations about the role in the world, about climate, about some of the issues that we really opened the door on in my campaign around Democratic reform.
The Supreme Court is just hearing this case on the Electoral College, and the contortions that some of the justices would have to go through in order to justify this bizarre and arcane system show you just how much we’ve outgrown it.
But I think right now, for so many of us, it’s just a question to getting to November and getting us a better government, and then hopefully finding new ways to pitch in.
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Gauging the veepstakes from the left
Mr. Buttigieg may not be willing to share his views on the vice-presidential pick, but members of MoveOn have no such hesitation.
The progressive organization shared a recent survey of its members’ vice-presidential preferences with On Politics tonight. Their top picks: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Kamala Harris of California and Stacey Abrams, the former candidate for governor of Georgia.
Though the survey is by no means scientific, it was sent to tens of thousands of MoveOn members, and it may shed some light on how liberals view Mr. Biden’s choices. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they’d be more likely to back Mr. Biden if he picked Ms. Warren, and two-thirds said the same about Ms. Harris and Ms. Abrams, a sign of the support all three women have among the Democratic Party’s activist base.
“We have a high percentage of members who intend to vote for Biden,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of the group. “But in terms of enthusiasm he’ll see much more excitement from our members if he goes with a Warren, Abrams or Harris pick.”
Fifty-five percent of respondents said it was important that the vice-presidential nominee be more progressive than Mr. Biden. And 46 percent said it was important for the running mate to be a person of color. Mr. Biden has vowed to pick a woman.
The group polled its membership on a dozen possible picks, including Govs. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. MoveOn members most frequently volunteered Michelle Obama; Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Susan Rice, the former national security adviser; and Representative Katie Porter of California.
Someday, in the aftertimes, we will travel again. And when we do, I look forward to asking Jonathan Martin, our national political reporter, for restaurant recommendations.
But until then, I’m really digging all these pandemic recommendation lists from my colleagues:
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