Pete Buttigieg on the Final 2020 Debate and Being Called 'Slayer Pete'


Going into the final presidential debate of the year, expectations were mixed. The first debate turned into an interruption-filled mess, the second was canceled, and the third came with a brand-new mute button. As it turns out, actually being able to hear the candidates made for its own set of shocking moments.

“I think we’re all glad that it felt different than the first one,” former 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg told me over the phone the morning after the debate. “Because things were a little more calm, you could really see the difference between the two of them. The exchange on immigration and children being separated from their parents was just one example where you could see real passion for other people and that trademark empathy that drives Joe Biden—and something very different from Donald Trump.”

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The (occasional) silence also gave Biden the room to prove he has some jokes. When President Trump said, “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump,” clarifying, “with the exception of Abraham Lincoln,” Biden responded with his own zing: “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history.”

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But Trump didn’t get it, asking why Biden was suddenly referring to the 16th president. “I think he’s not always up on nuance,” Buttigieg said. “Obviously you don’t become Donald Trump if you have any sense of irony.”

“But it’s a sad joke for someone like him to think he’s delivered more for Black Americans than the presidents who brought us civil rights legislation or championed Reconstruction,” he added. “He answered a question on race without talking about Black lives. That’s your answer right there.”

Buttigieg, on the other hand, has recently garnered attention for bringing both nuance and irony to the cable news circuit in his role as a Biden surrogate. He’s gone viral several times over the past few weeks, once responding to a question on Fox News about Senator Kamala Harris changing positions since becoming the vice presidential candidate, by saying, “If people want to play that game, we can look in to why an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence wants to be on a ticket with a president caught with a porn star.”

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The clips have earned him a new nickname—Slayer Pete—though Buttigieg doesn’t totally feel the connection. “When I get up and look in the mirror and get ready to shave, I wouldn’t say ‘slayer’ is the first word to cross my mind,” he quipped. “But I’ll take it in the spirit that it’s offered.”

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So what does he think of his comebacks getting so much attention now—months after he dropped out of this very race? “I think it partly reflects that we’re all on the same team. Folks might have been very critical of me before because they had a candidate and I was competing against their candidate. What’s exciting is now we’re all on the same team, behind the same candidate, so obviously they get a lot more pleasure out of seeing me help make the case.”

He’s also been assisting the campaign in other ways, even playing Pence in Harris’ debate prep, and then showing off his impression of the vice president on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. (“I doubt you would be impressed with many of my other impressions,” he admitted.)

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But even with all of his work, he’s still hesitant to say how he would celebrate if Election Day results in a Trump loss. “I’m superstitious enough not to let myself think too much about it.” When it comes to waiting for results on November 3rd, he added, “I always found election days to be interminable, especially as a candidate. When you’ve done the work, you’ve made the arguments, you’ve knocked on the doors, you’ve done the phone calls, and there’s nothing to do but watch and wait. Part of what we need to be prepared for, as voters and citizens, is that it might take a while to get answers, and that’s not anything nefarious. It’s people doing their jobs, carefully counting a historic number of mail-in and absentee ballots… The best thing I think we can do is get comfortable, settle in, talk to people we love. I know, for me, the presence of Buddy and Truman, our dogs, will be very important. It’s always good to be around a creature that doesn’t know there’s an election on to keep your feet on the ground.”

There are still 11 days to go until then, and in light of Thursday night, I had to ask: When he’s at home watching, is there anything he wishes he could’ve said to Trump during one of these debates?

“I try to keep those thoughts under control,” Buttigieg said. “The real question is: How do you respond when he says something that’s totally absurd?”

Granted, we may never see Trump and Buttigieg go head-to-head, so for now, his Fox appearances will have to do.

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