In his first appearance since taking the lead in Iowa polls, Mayor Pete Buttigieg spent the past two days in Western Iowa, a conservative stronghold and sparsely populated part of the state. On Monday, he visited Red Oak, Creston, Atlantic and Council Bluffs. On Tuesday, he stopped in Denison, Storm Lake and Sioux City.
There, he touted his message of hope and inclusivity, a core part of his campaign since he got in the race.
“If you love our country, you have to love the people of our country,” he said in his stump speech across Iowa. “And you can’t love our country if you hate half the people who are in it.”
Iowans responded positively. Lines about bringing people together and being president of all Americans got thunderous applause.
But the crowds seemed to want more, too.
Most of Buttigieg’s events featured a long question and answer portion. While questions about health care and education came up, people also asked about different aspects of foreign affairs, an issue that doesn’t generally resonate with voters.
In Denison, with a crowd of 180, Buttigieg was asked to compare and contrast his view of foreign policy with President Barack Obama’s.
“We are in a whole new world with the United States’ relationship to other countries,” Buttigieg said. “We have allies questioning whether it’s a good idea to bet your life on the credibility of the United States of America and we’re going to have a lot of work to do just to restore that American credibility.”
He also pointed out Congress needed to take back some of its authority when it came to foreign affairs, and Buttigieg said he would put a three-year sunset on congressional authorizations of military force.
In Storm Lake, Buttigieg was asked how to work with countries committing human rights abuses, like China’s mistreatment of Uighur Muslims. To that, Buttigieg said the United States has to reclaim its moral leadership.
“The United States, even if we can’t march in and change something, we have a lot of tools to bring about a different reality,” he said. “Even moral authority coming from the United States in dealing with these things could make a difference.”
To assert that authority, Buttigieg said America must practice what it preaches and declare that human rights are an important issue when dealing with other countries.
“I would speak up about it and ensure people who are being oppressed know that they have a friend, and at least the moral support of the United States of America,” he said.
Buttigieg talked about having diplomatic and economic power that could be used to influence the behavior of other countries.
Voters also asked about trade, and Buttigieg said there has to be a balance of healthy skepticism of foreign actors and a willingness to work with them.
“We really do need to be careful about national security implications, but that doesn’t mean you just put a big wall around the status quo,” he said. “It means you go in with a plan. And for every trade opportunity you ask; can this make our American farmers, workers and consumers better off than before?”
Buttigieg was also asked how he would handle a direct confrontation with President Donald Trump if they were the last candidates standing in a general election match-up.
“Here’s the thing. We’ve got to find a way to deal with that without becoming an equal and opposite version,” Buttigieg said in Denison, after a man asked how to debate people who don’t believe in the truth.
He also said lies should be confronted outright and Trump shouldn’t be allowed to change the subject. The conversation, Buttigieg said, should always be about the American people and how they would benefit from a candidate’s policies.
Buttigieg argued Democrats have the best answers to those questions because Democrats want to raise people’s wages, expand health care and make sure everyone in the country has what they need to succeed.
“Here’s the problem with this president: we have to give as good as we get. We have to push back but we cannot turn into what we’re fighting,” Buttigieg said. “So, I’m going to make sure that razzle-dazzle machine doesn’t completely take away from our ability to answer the fundamental question on every voters’ mind, which is ‘Am I going to be okay? And how is my life going to be different?’”
By Nikoel Hytrek