Pete Buttigieg: If God Belonged to a Political Party, It Would Not Be Republican

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has suggested that if God supported a political party, it would not be the Republicans.

Discussing the importance of his faith to his candidacy, Buttigieg told NBC News' Today show on Tuesday: "It's important that we stop seeing religion used as a kind of cudgel, as if God belonged to a political party. And if he did, I can't imagine it would be the one that sent the current president into the White House."

Buttigieg has rapidly become one of the most prominent Democratic candidates despite his relatively low precandidacy profile. The openly gay, 37-year-old Afghanistan veteran has brought a fresh face to the nomination race, competing with veteran politicians Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who have been in politics for as long as Buttigieg has been alive.

"I'm as surprised as anybody that I'm doing this right now, and for it to be catching on as quickly as it has," Buttigieg told NBC News. "I did not expect to spend my 38th year running for president."

His progressive profile has led to opposition. He has faced homophobic hecklers several times so far on the campaign trail, accused of betraying his Christian baptism and being called on to repent for his sins.

But Buttigieg is trying to roll with the punches. "In politics you see the good, the bad and the ugly, and I think it happens for any candidate," he said. "It's not like I enjoy it, but I have a responsibility to keep the focus on what we're actually trying to do."

Looking beyond his Democratic challengers, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor is prepping a strategy he thinks can defeat President Donald Trump. "There's going to be a temptation to play his game," he acknowledged. "If you're playing his game you're losing. Nobody is going to play his game better than he does, and so we've got to do something completely different."

On Monday, Buttigieg attacked Trump at an event in South Carolina, declaring that Trump's famous "Make America Great Again" slogan is inherently misleading. He told the crowd in Orangeburg that American prosperity was never a reality for every citizen.

Rather than try and go back in time, Buttigieg said, the U.S. must look ahead. "So many of the solutions, I believe, are going to come from our communities," the mayor suggested. "Communities like the one where I grew up, which is an industrial Midwestern city."

"That is exactly the kind of place that our current president targeted with a message saying that we could find greatness by just stopping the clock and turning it back, and 'making America great again,'" Buttigieg continued. "That past that he is promising to return us to was never as great as advertised, especially for marginalized Americans…and there's no going back anyway."

Buttigieg was in the vital primary state of South Carolina in an effort to grow support among black Southern voters, a demographic he is struggling to win over. A Morning Consult survey released at the end of April showed Buttigieg running at just 2 percent among black voters. Such a lack of support would torpedo his chances in states with large black populations such as South Carolina, where black voters cast around 60 percent of primary votes in 2016, according to Politico.

Buttigieg has been honest about his lack of momentum among black voters. "I need help," he told one attendee, according to CNN. "Out here, people are just getting to know me, and trust, in part, is a function of quantity time, and we are racing against time."

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Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, hosts a town hall meeting, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on April 16. Scott Olson/Getty Images