I was eating Sunday night dinner with my family when a breaking news alert covered the television screen. I dropped my fork.
“Oh my fucking god.” (I very rarely swear.) Oh was a shriek, but the rest escaped as a whisper. Immediately shaking, I bolted from the dinner table to confirm the news story. Before Super Tuesday states even had the chance to vote, my candidate, the man who had served as a guiding light in my life for the better part of a year, was suspending his campaign for the American presidency.
Of course, I knew the outlook was getting dimmer. I had been checking the FiveThirtyEight prediction graph daily, and <1 in 100 odds were far from comforting. However, I had a core, unshakeable belief in this campaign. Call it naive, but in the deepest depths of my soul, I thought we could pull this off. I imagined an impassioned contested Democratic National Convention, with fiery speeches from Pete, Chasten, the chairman of VoteVets, maybe even Michael J. Fox. Believing so strongly in Pete’s message of unity and belonging, I had no doubt that we could bring the country — or at least most of it — together with a common goal to win the era.
I first found the campaign in the late spring, when my best friend, whose parents adopted her from South Bend, mentioned the openly gay mayor running for president. She even said that she had donated a few dollars to his campaign. (My friends had always cared about current events, but one of us donating to a campaign was huge.) The more I read about Pete the more I liked him, and that summer I found myself devouring Shortest Way Home on the train ride to and from my internship.
The memoir changed everything. In 352 pages, Pete shattered every stereotype I had internalized about politicians. This man exhibited integrity and personal responsibility in ways I had never seen before; he made me understand that an education at an Ivy League university is not a free pass to selfishness. I began to realize how comfortable I had become in my own life and position. Serving in the military, knocking doors for a candidate, and running for office had seemed like far-off responsibilities for far-off people. I can confidently say that I will never enlist — and that is to the military’s benefit, I assure you — but Pete taught me that service, in some form, is not optional. As long as I am able, I must mobilize and use my education, my privilege, and my voice for something greater than myself.
In my immediate anger Sunday night, it was hard to comprehend engaging in politics again. I saw supporters of other candidates celebrating Pete’s exit and could not temper the feelings of betrayal. I, and almost one million others, had put our hearts and souls into this campaign, just as the other camps had. We donated, we canvassed, we knocked doors, we phonebanked. If all of these actions amounted to nothing, how could I conjure the hope to try again? If my candidate, who I strongly identified with myself, was so hated, how could I feel welcome in any other campaign? I fell victim to despondency.
It was Pete’s exit speech that picked me back up. Addressing hundreds of supporters in South Bend, and thousands more through Facebook, he reiterated the importance of down-ballot races, as well as electing a Democratic president — whoever it may be. His speech was uniquely touching because it was grounded in precisely what led me to the campaign initially: a sense of hope and belonging. He said, “My faith teaches that the world is not divided into good people and bad people; in fact, … all of us are capable of good and bad things. Today, more than ever, politics matters because leaders can call out either what is the best in us, or what is the worst.” By consistently putting country over party — and country over ego — Pete has called out the best in thousands of supporters; he has called out the best in me.
Pete eats cinnamon rolls like chicken wings. He can’t dance to save his life. He unironically enjoys classical music. His eyes light up whenever he mentions Chasten. He’s a dork. He’s great on piano. He’s awkward. His love of country is undying. He has shown countless LGBT+ kids, including nine-year-old Zachary, that they are valid, that being out and being successful are not mutually exclusive.
I can say this a thousand times, but it will never be enough. Thank you, Mayor Pete. Your campaign, governed by the Rules of the Road, made me kinder. It gave me a thicker skin. It showed me the value of listening. It made me hopeful for a united future. Most importantly, it made me want to be better. Forget delegate counts; this campaign has succeeded because it has pushed its supporters to be better citizens, better Democrats, better neighbors, better people. I am so damn proud to have played a small role in this campaign, and I joyously anticipate what is still to come.
— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chas10Buttigieg) March 2, 2020