Democratic candidate Buttigieg says Trump's attack on socialism 'was powerful when he was coming to age'

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of Southbend, Ind., and a Democratic presidential candidate, lambasted President Trump’s attacks on socialism and the lawmakers who identify with the political ideology as a “rhetorical strategy,” saying the word doesn’t have the same negative connotations it did for past generations.

“He is clinging to a rhetorical strategy that was powerful when he was coming to age,” Buttigieg said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union. “Today a word like that is the beginning of a debate and not the end.

Buttigieg added: “We are a market-based economy. You can’t kill off a discussion by calling it socialism.

Buttigieg’s comments come just days after President Trump slammed socialism during his State of the Union address, and at a time when Democratic Socialist politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have become prominent figures in the Democratic Party.


Trump's chief counselor, Kellyanne Conway, said last week that the president was intentionally defining socialism, which may be misunderstood by some Democratic voters.

"It's creeping throughout the entire party," Conway told Fox News Radio's "Brian Kilmeade Show" on Wednesday. "It will be a theme in 2020. So, this president has to knock it down in early 2019."

Trump’s comments on socialism during his address drew widespread discussion as the political ideology becomes more frequently talked about.

“Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free and we will stay free,” Trump said on Tuesday. “Tonight, we will renew our resolve that America will never be a Socialist country.”


The following day, veteran journalist Sam Donaldson refuted the president, arguing on CNN that the U.S. is “already a Socialist country.”

“It’s too late. Over half of Americans are on Socialist programs of the federal government. I’m on Medicare, I’m an old guy, and Medicaid, welfare programs not just for the poor, for the rich,” Donaldson told CNN. “’Hey, how about a sugar subsidy to the ranchers and farmers, let’s buy you some wheat since you can’t sell it on the market at the moment,’ we’re already on the way.  And Don, in a few years, we’re going to have a single-payer system, I think. The public is pushing towards it. Unless you say, ‘But that’s socialism! I don’t want that, but I do want good medical care and I want the government to pay for it. We’re a Socialist country already.”

Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.