This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How have you been adjusting to life after the campaign, and to the realities of coronavirus?
Buttigieg: You know it’s strange. First of all, it’s already a radical shift to go from just the pace of campaigning to not. To do that also in the context of a lockdown is a whole different animal.
And yet, in a way, maybe this is the only thing that could actually force me to one place and really detox from the constant motion of the campaign.
In what ways did the campaign change you?
PB: You get so used to everything revolving around this one goal — every thought, every interaction. And it narrows you, but it also means you always know what you’re about to talk about.
So just having normal conversations takes an adjustment — a very pleasant one, because your world widens a little bit. But suddenly you don’t have the subjects or the material that you’re used to going back to in conversations.
Of course, you’re getting used to not having the kind of staff that guided your every movement as well. You go from having hundreds of people help you do exactly one thing to thinking about how to assemble a small team that will help you do many things. It’s just a radical shift.
You were always proud to tell voters that Forbes listed you as the least wealthy candidate in the field. Now, you’re unemployed. So what’s next?
PB: We’re going to be finding ways to engage on some of the policy issues that we really cared about and other ways to be out there in the conversation, but none of that’s necessarily a job.
So we’ll also be looking at ways to find more of an anchor. But [I’m] not in a hurry after the campaign and the speed of everything. It’s good to pause. This was supposed to be a week to be on vacation, but obviously that’s not happening. But it’s still time to regroup and think, and I decided not to say yes to anything too soon.
Where were you going to go for vacation?
PB: You know, my goal was to be at the kind of place that’s in the stock photos for the hotel loyalty programs — a hut over the water somewhere. But Indiana will have to do for now.
How tough was it to get out of the race when you did?
PB: I knew that once the picture was clear in my head, I had a responsibility to act quickly because the simple fact of staying in the race, especially in that window between Saturday and Tuesday, that each minute that we remained in the race mattered.
Then I knew the other big thing besides getting into the race or getting out was whether to make an endorsement. So I spent Saturday night sleeping on the idea of stepping away and Sunday night sleeping on the idea of stepping out for Joe Biden.
I felt good when I went to bed. I felt better when I got up. So I knew to act quickly on that front.
What conversations did you feel you had to have before endorsing Biden?
PB: I didn’t need to be courted. But I did just want to make sure that I was comfortable. You spend a year and a half making your own case. It takes a lot to shift gears and throw your support behind somebody else so quickly.
But, you know, one of the themes that was really strong throughout the campaign was the importance of belonging and decency. Sometimes we used different words, but it was very much the same theme. The idea of empathy and decency was so central and is so central to Joe Biden’s public presence in his campaign that the more I thought about it, the more I felt there is this very natural line.
What role did President Obama play in those last 24 hours?
PB: None in terms of deciding what to do. He was very kind to call with kind words after I wrapped up the campaign. But the decision on what to do was really about me thinking about the right call and just getting comfortable with it.
How do you expect to be involved in the Biden campaign?
PB: I expected that I would be seeing [Biden] from time to time in the context of the campaign trail. But I’ve continued to be in touch with his team and there to be helpful in any way I can.
We’ve seen the former vice president adopt plans of other former candidates into his platform over the last few weeks. Have you pushed any of your plans, in particularly your Douglass Plan to fight systemic racism, which you made such a centerpiece of your own campaign?
PB: The Douglass Plan was a fantastic piece of work that I think deserves to be carried on not only in campaigns, by the way, but I think could be relevant in a lot of broader policy conversations and work that even goes outside of politics. It will be something I’m thinking about when I think about other activities and things I can be part of in the future.
How do you think the former vice president should be campaigning and what should he be doing in this moment where traditional campaigning has been transformed because of the coronavirus?
PB: When you’re a candidate, everyone’s got advice about how to do your job. So I’m reluctant to add to that chorus.
I will say I think that he has an opportunity — which I think he’s taking advantage of and I imagine will continue to develop — to show, not just tell, what it would be like to have a real president. And I think he can model a more compassionate and more fact-based approach to this situation that our country is going through.
That’s what we’re seeing, I think, in terms of his increased presence on in the video work that they’re doing. I hope we see more and more of that because I think, not just politically, but I think it’s good for the country to see a different way of bringing us together and responding to all this.
You were the recipient of plenty of skepticism from the left wing of the Democratic Party. Biden has received that kind of skepticism, too. How do you think he and those around him should go about uniting the Democratic Party ahead of the general election?
PB: I think most important thing is to focus on the substance of what we’re proposing. The platform that I’ve put together in my primary campaign, if nominated, would have made me the most progressive nominee of my lifetime, and certainly president in my lifetime.
If you look at the actual substance of what the Biden campaign is putting forward, it may not satisfy the same ideological tests as, let’s say the [Bernie] Sanders platform does. But look at what this is about: empowering workers, raising wages, holding corporations accountable, making our tax code fairer, in a way that even Democrats didn’t dare to talk about just a couple of cycles ago.
Who should Biden be looking at for vice president?
PB: At the risk of sounding quaint, I always said in my campaign that was the most important thing to think about when you’re identifying a future vice president is somebody who’s up to the job. And everything kind of flows from that. Of course, nobody understands the vice presidency more than Joe Biden right now.
So I trust his instincts to identify somebody who, in a future administration, can play such a key role.
You dropped out of the race as soon as you saw you had no path to the nomination. Many believe Sen. Bernie Sanders has no path to the nomination, but is taking a different approach. Is he hurting the Democrats’ chances in a general election by staying in the race?
PB: I can’t really speculate on his thinking, but I can tell you about mine. You know the way I thought about it and the way I came to terms with the decision as it all happened very quickly was: this is always about more than me getting into an office.
The whole idea of me running for president was to advance a certain vision, not the other way around. And that vision was about unifying the country, unifying the party and bringing an end to the Trump era.
I thought that I could serve those goals by becoming the nominee. Then one day, it became clear that I could best serve those goals by getting out of the race. I would hope that any candidate, even though it’s hard to do in the heat of campaigning, will step back and think about what your candidacy is for.
I certainly think that the best values that could motivate anyone to run for president as a Democrat right now, in this moment, those values I would hope point away toward doing everything we can to bring the party together into defeat this President.