Transcript: Pete Buttigieg on "Face the Nation," February 2, 2020

Buttigieg: "Very important for us to do well" in Iowa caucuses

The following is a transcript of an interview with Pete Buttigieg that aired Sunday, February 2, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He's kicking off his last day of campaigning in Iowa from Des Moines. Good morning to you. 

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It is--

BUTTIGIEG: Good to be with you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good to have you. It is a very tight race out there in Iowa. It looks like a three-way fight between you, Senator Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Looking at our latest Battleground Tracker poll here at CBS, Biden and Sanders are at 25 percent this morning. You are just a few points behind at 21 percent. How do you close the gap? How do you persuade moderates to vote for you instead of Biden?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's about making sure that we have the right approach to defeat Donald Trump. We don't have to choose between revolution and establishment. There is another way that I think we'll be the most effective for governing and for winning. Remember, every single time my party has won the White House in the last half century, it's been with a candidate who was looking to the future, who was not associated with Washington, either didn't have an office there or hadn't had one for very long, and was opening a door to a new generation. And as I'm talking to Iowans on the ground, they are focused on how their lives are going to change if we get a better president. That's why there's such an emphasis on making sure that we have the campaign that can win against Donald Trump, and I will beat him.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you really think that trying to persuade people that experience is a negative is the best way to draw a differentiation between you and Biden?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, what I'd say is that if you are looking for the person with the most years spent in- in Washington, then of course you have your choice and- and it's not going to be me. What I'm offering is a different perspective formed on the ground governing as an executive but also focused on bringing solutions from our communities to Washington. And I think that's the approach that most of the people I encounter are looking for. We're not going to be able to go up against this president looking to the same playbook. And by the way, this isn't just what we need in order for winning but this is what we need in order for governing. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Before you get to governing though, you've got to win the horse race. So how do you finish and how do you define success in Iowa? Is it top two?

BUTTIGIEG: I'll leave that to the pundits. But what I will say is it is, of course, very important for us to do well in Iowa. You know, the process of actually proving that we can earn support, that we have the right kind of campaign organization, that we can turn folks out with enthusiasm, that starts right here tomorrow night. And we're very aware of that. And that's why I'm not only going out there delivering this message to as many Iowans as I can get in front of. But we've also built a ground organization that I'm very proud of, that both in their approach and- and the way that they are dealing with people, and in that message, I think is earning us support every day and are going to build that turnout, that precinct organization--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

BUTTIGIEG: --that will help us succeed tomorrow.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said it's important to do well. Your advisers told reporters yesterday out there in Iowa, that doesn't necessarily mean you need to win in order to show you're viable for Super Tuesday. Is that your strategy? Skip ahead to those Super Tuesday states?

BUTTIGIEG: So, again, advisors, analysts and- and pundits can figure out where the goal posts ought to be--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, these were your advisors-- 

BUTTIGIEG: What I do know is we need--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --who were telling reporters yesterday--

BUTTIGIEG: --is a very strong showing. That's great. Campaign strategists will- will focus on that. I'm focused on Iowans lives and a message about making sure that we not only replace this president but replace this president with somebody who is ready to deal with the issues from climate to gun violence to the changes in our economy that are deciding whether our lives are going to go well. We're counting on a good finish here in Iowa, going straight to New Hampshire and on to Nevada, South Carolina and the other states.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. We're going to take a real quick break and come back with more of our conversation with Mayor Pete, so stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We'll continue our conversation now with 2020 hopeful and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I want to read for you the latest Battleground Tracker poll numbers we have forecasting Super Tuesday. That is those 14 states that you were just talking about, trying to build support. Looking at those numbers, you were at 5 percent support among Hispanics, 2 percent support among blacks. Why do you think it's a challenge for you when it comes to winning minority support?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I'm competing against some candidates who have had years or decades to demonstrate who they are and how they can win. I recognize that I am newer on the scene and we're at a time when no one is feeling the pain of living under this administration more than Americans of color. It's one of the reasons why there is such a focus on making sure that we are the campaign that can bring an end to that and that can turn the page. But the process of proving that begins right here in Iowa. And this is our best first chance to demonstrate the kind of organizational strength that will help build credibility with folks I've talked to, especially when we're in the south who may appreciate and like our plans, but also want to know that I'll be in a position to actually deliver, to defeat Donald Trump, and to make good on those plans.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you stay competitive in those Super Tuesday states when you already have Mike Bloomberg on the ground and spending tremendously to build support? How do you stay competitive?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, there's no question that with that kind of money, you can get a level of exposure and airtime. And at the same time, one of the things that is so important, especially in this stage of the process, is that politics isn't just about what happens on television. We're having such important moving conversations with voters who want to look you in the eye, ask you questions, understand who you are, challenge you. And I think that's the process that is ahead of us. It's one thing to arrive, arrive in the polls, arrive on the air or arrive on the scene. It's another to really go through that with voters. And even as the math grows and we're competing and more and more states, I think that will be where each of us makes our case. And I think that I've got the best case to make.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you know, the Democratic National Committee changed the debate requirements. They say they tightened them but in doing so, they have opened the door to the possibility Mike Bloomberg could be on a debate stage in the near future. Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken issue with this change, and she's pointed out that the DNC refused to change the rules earlier, quote, "to ensure good, diverse candidates could remain on the debate stage." She's referring to Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Do you think the field is less diverse because of the DNC?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I share the concern about diversity, and I don't envy the DNC's job of setting rules that campaigns like mine then have to compete under. But what I know is that we're going to take those rules as they come. I'm confident I'm qualifying. And I think anybody who has a realistic shot at the presidency should have to stand next to their competitors, defend and make their case.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the comment from Elizabeth Warren was fairly sharp, and she seems to be in some ways referring back to, you know, some of the frustrations from 2016 when supporters of Bernie Sanders were saying, look, the system is rigged, the DNC is being unfair. Do you see that playing out again this time?

BUTTIGIEG: I don't see a- a thumb on the scale, if that's what you're talking about. And again, I recognize the DNC has got a challenge- challenging job to do. I don't get a say in those rules. We compete under those rules, have from day one when we weren't sure that my four- I had an exploratory committee with a staff of four, and we saw those requirements come out of the DNC and wondered if we were going to make the cut to be among those- those 20 candidates who made it onto that first debate stage. And ever since have made sure that we were in a position to- to compete. That's what we're doing right now, and I know that the DNC will continue to set the parameters. What I will say is that the less 2020 resembles 2016, the better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Senator Sanders, of course, was in that race last time. I know when we spoke, you and I, last, you talked about an essay you wrote when you were 18 years old, praising Bernie Sanders at the time for his energy, his candor, his conviction and his ability to bring people together. What's changed now? Just you're neck and neck with him? Now you're trying to name him in your rallies and lay out why he's not the best guy.

BUTTIGIEG: Look, I still admire the qualities that I admired about him when I was in high school, but we're at a moment right now where our country is dangerously, frighteningly polarized and divided and we're at a moment where we have an amazing historic majority to do big things. I mean, even more than the majority that was available to President Obama, let's say 10 years ago. Among the American people right now, there is a strong appetite to step up and, for example, solve the health care issue. It's just that people aren't crazy about the idea of being kicked off their plans. There's a huge appetite right now to do the biggest transformation we've had on college affordability since the G.I. Bill. It's just that some Americans aren't crazy about the idea of paying even for the tuition of the children of millionaires and billionaires--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you- you praised his ability to bring people together then--  

BUTTIGIEG: My point is, we've got a majority right now that if we can energize it--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --you don't think he can bring people together now?

BUTTIGIEG: I think I'm the best candidate to bring people together now. And what we're seeing on the trail, including as I traveled to counties here in Iowa that swung in a big way from supporting President Obama to supporting President Trump, is that not only do we have Democrats dyed-in-the-wool progressives at our events, but we're seeing independents and a lot of people who self-identify as those future former Republicans I like to talk about in my speeches coming together, not pretending we agree on absolutely everything, but ready for a change. And actually, as united in what it is we're for, as what it is we're against. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who's your Super Bowl pick?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I'm from the Midwest, so I've got an affinity for the Chiefs. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thanks very much. We'll be right back with the head of the Republican National Committee.