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Pete Buttigieg Thinks Chick-Fil-A Boycotters Are "Virtue Signaling"

The presidential candidate told BuzzFeed News' AM to DM how he hopes to get beyond being a "flavor of the month" in the primary, and how lacking his gaydar really is.

Posted on March 27, 2019, at 12:29 p.m. ET

Richard Shiro / AP

Pete Buttigieg — the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major party — worries those who boycott Chick-fil-A because of its executives’ long opposition to gay marriage are inconsistent and “too sanctimonious” in their attempts to make a political point.

“I just want to make sure we don’t overrate ourselves in terms of our ability to be pure in this regard,” Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said Wednesday during an interview with BuzzFeed News’ AM to DM.

“If you’re turned off, as I am, by the political behavior of Chick-fil-A or their executives — if that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, so to speak, and you decide not to shop there, I’d certainly get it and I’d support that. But the reality is, we, I think, sometimes slip into a sort of virtue signaling in some cases where we’re not really being consistent. I mean, what about all the other places we get our chicken from?”

Buttigieg’s comments came a day after he offered himself as a peacemaker between the gay community and the fast-food chain while on The Breakfast Club, a syndicated radio show.

"I do not approve of their politics,” Buttigieg told listeners, “but I kind of approve of their chicken.”

.@PeteButtigieg discusses how he plans to avoid being just a "flavor of the month" 2020 candidate: "The most important thing is substance."

So does Buttigieg not buy into the boycott culture that has thrived on the progressive left?

“I just want to make sure that we’re not too sanctimonious about this, because sometimes we put ourselves in this position of judgment that doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny,” he said Wednesday. “My belief is that we should primarily deal with political issues in the political arena.”

Buttigieg, 37, stands out in the crowded Democratic field because of his age, his unlikely launching pad as mayor of a relatively small city, and his sexuality. But he’s not running as the gay candidate, though he acknowledged his experience as “being other” can be an asset. (He spoke passionately Wednesday, for example, in favor of a federal equality act that would prohibit discrimination against someone because they’re LGBTQ.)

“I think I’d like it to be a distinction without a difference,” he told AM to DM of his sexuality. “I mean, I’m a whole person, right? And being gay is part of who I am. And I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of my marriage. I’m proud of my husband. I’m also not running to be a candidate for any one constituency group. I’m mindful of the historic nature of being the first out candidate ever to compete for the presidency.”

That doesn’t mean Buttigieg would necessarily be the first gay president if he wins. BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith asked about speculation that James Buchanan, the nation’s 15th president, was gay.

Mayor @PeteButtigieg when asked about James Buchanan being the first gay president: "My gaydar is not great to begin with and definitely doesn't work over long stretches of time."

“It kind of sounds that way,” Buttigieg replied. “But my gaydar is not great to begin with and definitely doesn’t work over long stretches of time. So I think we’ll just have to let the historians figure that one out.”

Buttigieg has seen a surge in popularity and publicity since his performance this month in a CNN town hall forum. (He was given call-in privileges to AM to DM, a perk that news shows reserved largely for then-celebrity candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.) His rebuke of Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor, came on the heels of former vice president Joe Biden, a potential rival for the Democratic nomination, taking flak from progressives for calling Pence a “decent guy.” Buttigieg’s campaign says he has met the donor threshold to qualify for the first Democratic debate this summer. And a recent poll in Iowa, the first caucus state, showed Buttigieg — previously a rounding error or footnote in 2020 polls — in third place, behind Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“I think for anybody who wants to outlive a sort of flavor-of-the-month phase, the most important thing is substance,” Buttigieg said Wednesday. “This moment for me really began with the CNN town hall. But what I said that night wasn’t that different from what I’ve been saying everywhere I go. So I think the lesson I took away from it is there can be a very powerful response to what we have to say, but we need to make sure people actually hear it. As exciting as it is to have a lot of buzz right now and to be seeing that momentum and even seeing it reflected in some early polling, I’m under no illusion that most people have tuned into this process at all, let alone know about our message.”

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