There’s a certain amount of excitement built into a presidential town hall.
After all, there’s an assumption the crowd is filled with supporters, those people who manage to grab tickets before they sell out and cue up hours before the event just to get a good seat or a better glimpse at the candidate.
That was certainly the case with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s stop at Fresno State on Monday.
And because the town hall aired live on MSNBC, there was also the stage manager urging the audience louder as the cameras cut back from commercial breaks.
“Here we go! Here we go!” – as the standing-room-only crowd erupted into applause.
At several points, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews couldn’t be heard over the clapping and cheering.
For fans of Matthews and “Hardball,” it was surely exciting to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the sausage was made, so to speak. Matthews made a few quick comments before the show, calling the recent Democratic convention, “the lefties up in San Francisco.”
The line got a laugh.
During the hour-long town hall, Buttigieg answered questions from both Matthews and the audience on everything from a national gun registry (he’s for it) to impeaching President Donald Trump.
“I believe that the president deserves to be impeached,” he said. Though there could also be a kind of “strategic wisdom” in following a slower-paced sequence to get there, he added.
“Even though I have revealed myself to be ambitious, in that I am a young man running for president, that I also would think twice before offering strategic advice to Nancy Pelosi.”
Trade and tariffs
Asked about trade tariffs as they relate to agriculture, Buttigieg said he believes Central Valley farmers should be able to sell their produce to anyone in the world. Increasingly, that can’t happen, he said, because of what he described as short-sighted policies put in place by the president.
“I can’t even call it a policy. It’s a pattern. It’s a pattern of poking people in the eye to see what’ll happen.”
We can’t go back to the norm
When asked about comments he made at the California Democratic Convention calling into question the electability of Joe Biden, Buttigieg said he is not interested in a campaign where the theme is “let’s go back to normal.”
He doesn’t think the American people are, either.
“This is bigger than one candidate or one cycle,” he said.
“People have seen Democratic and Republican administrations letting them down for basically as long as I’ve been alive. And there’s a sense that our economy and our government are twisted, are tilted, are not working for us.“
The future is female
While political posters and slogans were banned from the event, a women seated center stage was visible with a shirt that read ”The future is female.”
The most pointed questions of the night came from women in the audience. One wondered why the women should vote for Buttigieg over “our sisters who are kind of more qualified.”
Buttigieg said his qualifications are different from the other candidates. His experience in the military and as an executive in charge of the kind of city that Trump targeted with “rhetoric of nostalgia and resentment” set him apart.
He also said he believes we should have a woman in the White House right now and assured those in the audience that he gets the fact that some of them won’t vote for a man this time around.
“I get it, and whether you decide to be for me or not, I promise that I will be for you.”
Tickets to the town hall were free, but registration to the event capped out an hour after it was announced. More than 500 people were in attendance with event staff visible working to make sure everyone had a seat. There was overflow in the theater lobby.
Those seen at the event including Mark Keppler, the executive director of the Maddy Institute; former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin; and developer Darius Assemi. Fresno city Council Member Paul Caprioglio missed part of the city’s budget hearings to attend the event.
You can tell something about a campaign by its swag — the T-shirts and buttons and the like. Buttigieg is an obvious Millenial. Along with the standard blue Pete 2020 T-shirt, (very normal and typical of a presidential candidate), there was also a Star Wars-themed “We are the Resistance” shirt (with a photo of Princess Leia).
There were also a number of anti-Trump buttons, including “Elect a clown, expect a circus,” and “American psycho,” with a drawing of Trump’s face.
Matthews is a decent-enough moderator for this kind of thing and pushed Buttigieg on several topics, especially gun control legislation and his thoughts on Biden and the future of the Democratic Party.
Mostly, he let the crowd drive the event, even if at times it seemed like he was more interested in the audience’s thoughts then Buttigieg’s.
He only forgot he was in Fresno once.