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Opinion Buttigieg thrives in town-hall settings

Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to veterans and members of the public at a town-hall event at the American Legion Post 98 in Merrimack, N.H., on Thursday. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

After a day in which a vitriolic President Trump lashed out at rivals, ridiculing their faith and condemning them as “evil” and “vicious” (talk about projection), it was comforting to hear a rational, calm voice reflecting a deep understanding of faith and the Constitution, from someone who cares enough about public policy to inform himself of the issues. The latter came from former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg at a CNN town hall Thursday night in New Hampshire.

Asked to respond to Trump’s rant at the National Prayer Breakfast, he spoke thoughtfully on the place of religion and faith in politics and the false cloak of religion that Trump wraps himself in:

He responded at length to a woman who lost a child to mental health issues, speaking about the need for both a cultural change in how we talk about mental health and government policy that provides access to needed services on a timely basis:

He stood up for Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) (“It was disgraceful, especially to hear the way [Trump] attacked Sen. Romney for clearly following his own conscience and being more concerned about, as Sen. Romney clearly was, more concerned about the judgment of history and perhaps about his relationship with God, than about party loyalty”) and slammed Trump for his antiquated approach to border security (“This president’s idea of a security strategy is to build a big wall and a moat full of alligators”).

In another answer, Buttigieg drew the analogy between foreign election interference and domestic interference with Americans’ voting rights, including voter suppression and gerrymandering. He also expressed genuine delight that Americans were so accepting of the first openly LGBTQ candidate to mount a major bid for the presidency. “I think the fact that I’m standing here, the fact that my husband’s in the audience watching right now, is just an amazing example of that belief that yes — yes, you belong — and this country has a place for you,” he remarked.

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In responding to a question about “kids in cages,” Buttigieg appealed to our better angels. “I think all of the most evil things that happened in the world come from moments where a human being considers another human being and sees something other than humanity,” he warned. “And that’s part of what the highest office in the land is responsible for shaping is the way we look at and treat each other, especially those who are different, racially different, ethnically different, politically different for that matter, and see in one another the humanity that requires of us some level of compassion.” What a concept — a president who thinks in terms of respect for others and creating a decent political debate. (“Part of why my campaign is calling out not only to fellow Democrats who are most likely to agree with me on specific policy concerns, but independents and an awful lot of what I like to call future former Republicans, who won’t agree with me on every issue, but can agree on this, that there’s no way we can look children in the eye right now, and explain what is going on in this country morally, and that we have to do better.”)

Perhaps it was the contrast in tone, temperament and intellectual wattage between Trump and Buttigieg or the blatantly ridiculous and insincere arguments advanced by Senate Republicans in defense of an abjectly unfit president. Whatever the reason, it did feel like a breath of fresh air (or “turning the channel,” as Buttigieg likes to say) to listen to an intellectually rigorous and decent politician. Buttigieg gets snarky criticism from those who think he is too programmed, too cerebral. Frankly, we could do a lot worse at this point than a prepared and intellectually sophisticated president.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Something is happening in New Hampshire

E.J. Dionne Jr.: How Pete Buttigieg broke through

Pete Buttigieg: A conversation with the Washington Post Editorial Board

Molly Roberts: Pete Buttigieg, millennials’ bane

Stephen Stromberg: Buttigieg found the obvious winning formula: Be an Obama clone

Michael Gerson: Pete Buttigieg is thinking big about religion and politics