For months, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has derided Vice President Mike Pence’s partnership with President Donald Trump as a craven move to legitimize the thrice-married serial philanderer in the eyes of evangelical voters. Now, Pence’s first public remarks on the simmering feud accuse Buttigieg of being the cynical one.
“He said some things that are critical of my Christian faith and about me personally. And he knows better—he knows me,” Pence said in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box that aired on Thursday morning.
“But I get it,” Pence continued. “You know, it’s, look, again, 19 people running for president on that side in a party that’s sliding off to the left. And they’re all competing with one another for how much more liberal they are.”
Pence, who served one term as governor of Indiana while Buttigieg was in his first term as mayor of South Bend, makes numerous appearances in the Democratic presidential candidate’s memoir, where he is depicted as a holy warrior whose obsession with social conservatism embarrassed the state and, in part, inspired Buttigieg to come out as gay.
“It really made my life harder, as we were trying to demonstrate that Indiana was ready for the future,” Buttigieg told The Daily Beast in an interview about his “long and complicated” relationship with Pence. “He seemed to be intent on sending us back into the past.”
During his time in Congress, Pence opposed same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption, and workplace protections for LGBT people. His support for federal funds for organizations that help people “seeking to change their sexual behavior” during his 2000 congressional campaign has frequently been interpreted as an endorsement of conversion therapy, although Pence has denied that he believes in the practice.
As governor, Pence signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which gave individuals and businesses cover to discriminate against LGBT people if they held personal religious beliefs disapproving of homosexuality. The law made Indiana a target of national protest, as dozens of organizations pulled business out of the state. Pence compounded the crisis during a disastrous appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, when the governor refused to say whether it should be legal for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.
Pence was not asked about that stance in the CNBC interview, but reaffirmed that he and his family “have a view of marriage that’s informed by our faith, and we stand by that.”
“But that doesn’t mean that we’re critical of anyone else who has a different point of view,” Pence, who Trump once joked wants to hang all gay people, said.
Although Buttigieg has actively discouraged fellow Democratic presidential candidates from centering the race on opposition to Trump, he has publicly criticized the vice president in recent weeks. On Sunday, Buttigieg told a largely queer audience at a Washington fundraiser for the LGBT Victory Fund that “the Mike Pences of the world” need to take their problems with gays to a higher authority.
“If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me,” Buttigieg said. “Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
The vice president has avoided responding directly until Thursday, but his wife Karen, who works at a Virginia private school that bans gay employees and students, told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade on Tuesday that the pair have “always had a great relationship.”
“It’s funny because I don’t think the vice president does have a problem with him, but I think it’s helping Pete to get some notoriety by saying that about the vice president,” the second lady said at the time.
Buttigieg, apparently in response, tweeted hours later that “People will often be polite to you in person, while advancing policies that harm you and your family. You will be polite to them in turn, but you need not stand for such harms. Instead, you push back, honestly and emphatically. So it goes, in the public square.”
Asked for comment on Pence’s comments, Buttigieg’s campaign referred The Daily Beast back to the mayor’s previous statements—although the mayor’s upcoming Friday appearance on Ellen likely means that the contretemps is far from over.