'I don't care': Buttigieg draws applause at Fox News town hall for dismissing Trump's tweets

Maureen Groppe

WASHINGTON – Pete Buttigieg got an enthusiastic reception at a Fox News town hall Sunday where he explained the importance of restoring moral authority to the office of president and appointing judges that back reproductive rights. 

He also criticized President Donald Trump over reports that he's considering pardoning service members accused of war crimes. 

But the response that generated one of the biggest rounds of applause was his dismissal of Trump's signature form of communication.

"The tweets are – I don’t care," the Democratic presidential hopeful said when asked how he would deal with Trump's tweets and insults if he wins the nomination.

Calling Trump's tweets a distraction from the real issues, Buttigieg said he gets that "It's the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away."

In fact, two hours before the event at a New Hampshire high school, Trump criticized the network for “wasting airtime” on Buttigieg.

“They forgot the people who got them there,” Trump tweeted.

He also reprised his nickname for Buttigieg, adding: “Alfred E. Newman will never be President!”

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, center, answers a question during a FOX News Channel Town Hall moderated by Chris Wallace, center right, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Claremont, N.H.

Buttigieg was the third Democratic presidential candidate to do a Fox News town hall, drawing more attendees than the previous appearances by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, according to moderator Chris Wallace.

"Wow, a standing ovation," Wallace said as the audience rose after the hour-long discussion with the South Bend, Indiana, mayor.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren turned down an invitation, slamming the network as a "hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists."

Buttigieg, who had been the first Democratic candidate to appear on Wallace's Fox News Sunday show, defended his choice to supporters in an email Saturday. Buttigieg said that while he condemns the Fox News hosts who “uncritically amplify hate,” the network has viewers who are “tuning in in good faith.”

"I think we've got to find people where they are," he said during Sunday's town hall, where he specifically criticized hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. "Not change our values. But update our vocabulary so that we're truly connecting with Americans form coast to coast."

Here are some of the other highlights from the town hall:

Avoided criticizing Biden

The 37-year-old Buttigieg has emphasized his youth as an advantage in the crowded primary field, saying he has the perspective to worry about what the world will be like in 2054, the year when he will reach the age of the current president.

Wallace asked Buttigieg if he would say the same about the year 2058, which is when he will be the same age as former Vice President Joe Biden. Buttigieg avoided directly calling Biden too old to run. Instead, he said there's a "special value to generational change at a moment like this."

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Abortion stance

With more states passing laws to newly restrict access to abortion, Buttigieg said the next president needs to be ready to protect what he called the right of a woman to make her own decisions about her body and her reproductive health.

“First of all, and the simplest thing, is appointing justices and judges who recognize that that is part of American freedom," he said. 

That's more detail than he lists on his campaign site though he wasn't as specific as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been. She has committed to appointing judges that back Roe v. Wade and wants to codify the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion into law.

Wallace pressed Buttigieg on whether abortion should be legal at any state of pregnancy, an issue that Republicans want to draw attention to as some states debate loosening restrictions on abortions later in pregnancy. 

“The dialogue has gotten so caught up on where you draw the line that we’ve gotten away from the fundamental question of who gets to draw the line,” Buttigieg said. “And I trust women to draw the line.”

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Restoring moral authority

Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, brought up recent reports that Trump is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes. 

"That is undermining the foundation of American moral authority and I think, in the long run, is putting troops at risk," he said.

That comment drew applause, as did Buttigieg's assertion at the start of the town hall that being president is, most of all, a "moral job."

"And that's the part I think we're missing today," he said.

Honoring Thomas Jefferson

Buttigieg has taken heat for a Friday radio interview with conservative host Hugh Hewitt in which he was asked whether the Democratic Party should rename their "Jefferson-Jackson Day" dinners because Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were slave holders.

"Yeah, we're doing that in Indiana. I think it's the right thing to do," Buttigieg said Friday, as part of a longer answer. Some outlets reported that Buttigieg wants Jefferson's name taken off buildings and other things as well.

"Basically, I said we’re rethinking how Democratic functions might name our event," Buttigieg said when asked about the issue. "The next thing you know, you would have thought I had proposed blowing up the Jefferson Memorial in D.C.”

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg takes a selfie with audience members after a FOX News Channel town hall, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Claremont, N.H.

Higher taxes

Buttigieg accused Republicans of blowing a hole in the federal budget with an “unnecessary and unaffordable tax cut for the very wealthiest.”

But he said Democrats have an obligation to say how they would pay for the increased spending they’re advocating for health care, infrastructure and education. He backed raising the top income tax rate and creating a “reasonable wealth tax” on assets “or something like that to make sure that people are giving back when they become enormously wealthy.”

Buttigieg said he would also consider a “financial transactions tax” on computer-assisted high frequency trading. And he wants to close “corporate tax loopholes” and incentives for moving business operations to avoid taxes.

Predicting the Game of Thrones outcome

After naming the hit HBO show "Game of Thrones" as his guilty pleasure, Buttigieg was asked to predict which competitor for the Iron Throne would end up in the chair. Buttigieg said he thought the show had been building toward a Daenerys Targaryen reign

"But she's made some highly questionable leadership decisions," he said, shortly before the season finale aired. "I think it's anybody's bet right now."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'I don't care': Buttigieg draws applause at Fox News town hall for dismissing Trump's tweets