Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg raised the volume on his criticism of President Trump on Thursday, accusing him of using his “privileged status to fake a disability” decades ago in order to avoid military service in the Vietnam War.
“This is somebody who, I think it’s fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was the child of a multi-millionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place,” Buttigieg charged.
The South Bend, Ind., mayor also likened the president to a “crazy uncle” and effectively called Trump a racist during an hour-long interview with the Washington Post.
“This is somebody who, I think it’s fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was the child of a multi-millionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place.”
The one-time long shot for the Democratic nomination, who has surged in the polls over the past two months, also indirectly criticized former Vice President Joe Biden, the clear front-runner in the primary race, over Biden’s support for a now-controversial 1994 crime bill.
'He'll say anything'
Buttigieg, an Afghanistan War veteran, said, “I have a pretty dim view of his [Trump’s] decision to use his privileged status to fake a disability in order to avoid serving in Vietnam.”
Asked about the Democratic candidate's comments, the Trump campaign suggested Buttigieg is just trying to grab attention amid recently dipping poll numbers.
“Mayor Pete’s moment in the sun has just about come to an end, so he’ll say anything to try to stay relevant to the radicals in the Democrat Party,” campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
“Mayor Pete’s moment in the sun has just about come to an end, so he’ll say anything to try to stay relevant to the radicals in the Democrat Party.”
Trump received five deferments from the draft for military service during the Vietnam War. Four were education deferments while he was a college student and the fifth – in 1968 after he graduated – was a medical exemption.
Two daughters of a New York podiatrist told the New York Times recently that 50 years ago, their father diagnosed Trump with bone spurs in his heels, as a favor to the doctor’s landlord, millionaire real estate developer Fred Trump.
But on the campaign trail in 2015, as he was running for president, Trump said, "It was a long time ago. ... I had student deferments and then ultimately had a medical deferment because of my feet. I had a bone spur."
Trump told reporters at the time that he couldn’t remember which foot had the problem. His campaign later said the bone spurs affected both feet.
'Crazy uncle' management
Buttigieg, meanwhile, also slammed the president as a racist.
“If you do racist things and say racist things, the question of whether that makes you a racist is almost academic. The problem with the president is that he does and says racist things and gives cover to other racists. It’s not an accident that hate crime rose disproportionately in places that his campaign visited,” the candidate told the Post.
“It’s almost like a sort of 'crazy uncle' management,” Buttigieg added. “Like, he’s there. You’re not going to disrespect his humanity. But he thinks what he thinks. There’s not much you can do about it.”
“It’s almost like a sort of 'crazy uncle' management. Like, he’s there. You’re not going to disrespect his humanity. But he thinks what he thinks. There’s not much you can do about it.”
The president has repeatedly denied being a racist.
The latest comments ratchet up the tit-for-tat between Buttigieg and Trump, who recently likened the Democrat to the Mad magazine mascot in an attempt to knock him down a peg.
“Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States,” the president said in a Politico interview. He later questioned the young mayor's ability to hold his own in negotiations with foreign governments like China.
"I want to be in that room, I wanna watch that one," Trump joked at a recent rally.
Buttigieg on Thursday also defended athletes who have created controversy by kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and the mass incarceration of African-Americans.
"I felt that I was watching Americans exercise a right that I had put my life on the line to defend," said Buttigieg, who served in the U.S. Navy Reserve in Afghanistan in 2014.
Buttigieg is averaging in the mid-to-upper single digits in most 2020 Democratic nomination polls, which puts him near the top in a historically massive field of nearly two-dozen candidates.
Biden is far ahead of the rest of the field in the latest public opinion surveys but Buttigieg sought Thursday to dispel the notion that the former vice president has earned the nomination.
“I think you earn the nomination by winning it,” he emphasized. “Nobody’s earned the nomination in 2019.”
'That's what elections are for'
Buttigieg also disagreed with Biden over the effects of the 1994 crime bill -- signed into law by former President Bill Clinton -- which has been criticized in recent years by many Democrats for spiking incarcerations, particularly among minorities.
Biden, who as a U.S. senator from Delaware helped craft the sweeping legislation, last week defended the law’s gun control provisions, which he said helped him “beat the NRA.”
"I’m the only guy ever nationally to beat the NRA," Biden said in defending the law. "Because when we did the crime bill — everybody talks about the bad things. Let me tell you about the good thing in the crime bill."
"It’s the one that had the assault weapons ban, a limited number of bullets in a clip. It made sure that cop-killer bullets, Teflon bullets, weren’t available any longer. It opened up the whole effort to make sure there is background checks for the first time in American history,” he added.
Buttigieg said that “from a South Bend perspective, the bad outweighs the good,” adding that there’s a broad consensus “that that bill contributed to mass incarceration in a country that is the most grievously incarcerated in the world.”
“I think the incarceration did so much harm that I would think that even those who were behind the ’94 crime bill, at least many of them, would do it differently if they had a chance to do it again,” he said.
Asked if those responsible for the bill – like Biden – should be held to account, Buttigieg quickly answered: "That’s what elections are for.”
Buttigieg, whose difficulties in attracting support from African-American voters so far have been widely documented by the press, said that “it is important, especially in these times, that the next administration be the most gender-balanced, racially-diverse ever. And that you would see that reflected in all of my decisions, including the selection of a running mate.”
Asked if he would firmly say he’d name a female or minority as his running mate should he win the nomination, Buttigieg answered: “I’ll certainly lean in that direction. I’m just not going to make a declaration in May of 2019 that would rule any individual in or rule them out.”
'I've never hired a family member'
Buttigieg, who if elected would become the nation’s first openly gay president, did seem to rule out a West Wing role for his husband, Chasten Buttigieg.
“I’ve never hired a family member,” he noted.
Asked about the role of Trump’s daughter and son-in-law Ivanka and Jared Kushner as top advisers to the president, Buttigieg said, “I don’t endorse in that kind of family situation.”
But, he did compliment his husband, saying “in South Bend and on the campaign trail, Chasten has done an amazing job in my view of modeling what a first spouse can be like.”
And he added that his husband “helps me govern right now.”