Mayor Pete questions Trump's belief in God, Christian beliefs

Let’s start with the premise that it’s not a good look to question the legitimacy of someone’s claim to be a person who believes in Christian values and in God. As a rule of thumb, should one politician be challenging the validity of another politician’s sincerity when it comes to religious faith? Probably not. Potential 2020 Democrat primary candidate Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, did just that, though, Wednesday in an interview with USA Today.

In an interview with opinion columnist Kirsten Powers, Mayor Pete called for an awakening of the religious left to counter the influence of the religious right in politics.

He has also stood out as a devoted Christian who is speaking against the dominance of the religious right in the public square. As Buttigieg told me in an interview Friday, “The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state … but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.”

Buttigieg criticized right-wing Christians for “saying so much about what Christ said so little about, and so little about what he said so much about.”

Powers went on to “parse” that last statement. She assumed Buttigieg meant such hot button topics as abortion and the litmus test often applied by the religious right in conservative politics. Leftists always go right to abortion, you know. Then Buttigieg went on to expand on that last bit of word salad to include treatment of immigrants, the poor, and the stranger as written in Scripture.

As to the religious right saying “so little about what (Jesus) said so much about,” Buttigieg made this observation: “When I think about where most of Scripture points me, it is toward defending the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger, and the prisoner, and the outcast, and those who are left behind by the way society works. And what we have now is this exaltation of wealth and power, almost for its own sake, that in my reading of Scripture couldn’t be more contrary to the message of Christianity. So I think it’s really important to carry a message (to the public), knitting together a lot of groups that have already been on this path for some time, but giving them more visibility in the public sphere.”

Powers writes that Buttigieg is making a plea for the religious left to be more evident in public discourse. Ok, fine. I am not on board with Mayor Pete’s pro-abortion views but I don’t have a problem with more talk rather than less between differing points of view.

Then, as he claimed he’s reluctant to do, he questioned President Trump’s religious faith in light of actions and personality. Instead of examples of policy differences, he went straight for the personal attacks. Spoiler alert: he’s not really reluctant.

Does Buttigieg think Trump is a Christian? “I’m reluctant to comment on another person’s faith, but I would say it is hard to look at this president’s actions and believe that they’re the actions of somebody who believes in God,” he said. “I just don’t understand how you can be as worshipful of your own self as he is and be prepared to humble yourself before God. I’ve never seen him humble himself before anyone. And the exaltation of yourself, especially a self that’s about wealth and power, could not be more at odds with at least my understanding of the teachings of the Christian faith.”

When pressed by George Stephanopoulos Thursday morning, Buttigieg declined to walk back his personal attack on Trump while calling for more decency in politics. Ironically, Mayor Pete calls out Trump for hypocrisy.

During an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday, Buttigieg was pressed by host George Stephanopoulos on whether his comments were consistent with a need for “decency” in politics for which Buttigieg advocates in a recently released book.

“I work very hard to make sure when we oppose this president we’re not emulating him, but we do need to call out hypocrisy when we see it,” he said.

So, like so many of the other candidates, or potential candidate, Mayor Pete is promoting a new book. He’s trying to make headlines to bring attention to his potential candidacy and to sell books, too. All of this is a win/win for him. Given that Buttigieg is the new flavor of the month in the Democratic field, he knows an opening when he sees one.

Buttigieg also does not spare Vice President Mike Pence and his religious beliefs, mostly because Buttigieg is gay and married. Pence was governor of Indiana during Mayor Pete’s tenure in South Bend and he opposed Pence’s support of the state’s legislature’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It allows businesses to cite religious beliefs as a legal defense of lawsuits.

I haven’t written about Buttigieg but I’ve been following his rise, especially as I’ve seen him do well in recent interviews. He’s on a roll right now with more media exposure and in fundraising, too. I think he may be a true dark horse in the Democrat primaries. His resume is impressive, especially for a leftist. He’s a Rhodes Scholar, a graduate of Harvard, Afghanistan war veteran, Mayor of South Bend, He’s only 37 years old so he’d be the first millennial president, although I hold no delusion that he’ll overcome his competition to become the Democrat candidate. He’s articulate and poised in his media interviews. In other words, he can draw from the left and more independent voters. I wouldn’t vote for him because he’s full-on leftist but he can appeal to young voters looking for someone else besides Bernie this time around. He’s also a younger alternative to Beto.

According to the latest Morning Consult poll, he’s now at 3%. He bests Trump in a one-on-one race 45% to 41% according to Real Clear Politics. His fundraising is strong for the first quarter reporting period at $7 million. That’s impressive for a guy still in the exploratory stage. It looks like he’s made up his mind and may be making a formal announcement in South Bend on April 14 since he’s cleared the first fundraising hurdle. Keep an eye on him.