By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.
Special to the Star
SAN DIEGO — I confess that it took me awhile to convert to the Church of Pete. But now, I’m listening to the sermons. And I’m becoming a believer.
This is not to say that the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana — who recently entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination — is my choice.
It’s too early to pick a horse in this race. Everyone is playing to their strengths.
But the weaknesses have yet to be revealed; the likable candidate might not be very smart, and the smart one might prove to be not very likable.
All I know is that I’m in the market for a Democrat who can save the country by defeating Donald Trump.
It’s not enough to nominate someone who is “unlike” Trump. The idea is to pick someone who can unseat Trump.
In fact, the ability to trounce Trump is the second most important quality in a candidate. The first one is authenticity.
Pete Buttigieg has that base covered. With a Bill Clinton-like blend of book smarts and emotional intelligence, the fiery but plainspoken Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar and Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan — hailing from a Red State — offers something that doesn’t seem fake or pre-packaged.
Mika Brzezinski nailed it. The co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” drew a contrast between Buttigieg and the candidate formerly known as Robert Francis O’Rourke — who prefers to spice things up by going by “Beto.”
Referring to “this Kennedy concept, this young new millennial candidate concept” that some Democratic presidential hopefuls are selling, Brzezinski pushed back against the manufactured nature of Beto-mania.
“I feel like that concept has been forced on me,” she said. “I’m not comfortable. Like don’t tell me that this candidate is ‘the one.’ You hear about all these Democratic operatives flocking to Beto, and you feel this sort of contrived candidacy.”
Tell me about it. Imagine you’re Mexican-American and you’re being told by Beto Bots and the liberal media not to worry, that a rich white guy from El Paso who speaks Spanish will stand in for you. You talk about contrived.
Yet something different is brewing in South Bend.
“Then you look at Mayor Pete, who has literally come out of nowhere, and it feels much more natural,” Brzezinski said. “It feels real. You hear him, and he touches you.”
It does feel natural. Buttigieg first landed on my radar about a month ago, thanks to his sharp intellect.
His answers during a March 10 “CNN Town Hall” were sophisticated but honest.
I was impressed that he speaks multiple languages; this week, he expressed sympathy to the French people for the destruction caused by the fire in the Cathedral of Notre Dame — in French.
I loved that he learned to speak Norwegian so he could read a book in its original language.
But I wasn’t sold yet. As I delight in telling Democrats who still don’t understand how Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, running for president is not a spelling bee. The smartest person doesn’t always win. I needed more.
For me, Buttigieg’s brave and defiant remarks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s annual brunch in Washington did the trick.
He aimed his comments at the “Mike Pences of the world” — a reference to Vice President Mike Pence, an opponent of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ civil rights.
Buttigieg, who is openly gay, took no prisoners. A church-going Episcopalian, he said that marrying Chasten Glezman, a 29-year-old Montessori teacher, made him “a better man” and moved him “closer to God.”
He also opened up about coming out and said there was a time in his life when, if he could have identified what made him gay, he would “cut it out with a knife.” Finally, he said to the bigots: “If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Ouch. That’s going to leave a mark.
Good for you, Pete. This is the kind of real talk that I’ve been hungry for. This is not how most politicians talk to the LGBTQ community — or any community.
But this is how regular people talk to each other.
With white privilege flaring in both parties, white nationalism camped out at a cable network, and white liberals trampling those they claim to represent, the race for president needs color. And what’s more colorful than a rainbow?
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.