"(Trump) had this message about fairness and unfairness that should be the bread-and-butter of the Democratic Party," Pete Buttigieg told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files," a podcast from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN. "(Democrats) had fairness as a theme kind of stolen from us, I think, with devastating effect."
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, recently ran unsuccessfully to chair the Democratic National Committee, but his performance on the national stage has elevated his stature within the party.
When asked what advice he would give to Tom Perez, the new chairman of the DNC, Buttigieg, who has been calling for Democrats to expand their appeal beyond urban centers, recommended a sustained grassroots effort to reverse the party's weakened position in state legislatures and other local offices throughout the country.
"The DNC is always vulnerable to this gravitational force that makes it treat the presidency like it's the only office that matters," Buttigieg said, adding that school board and state house elections can have profound policy implications and should be vigorously defended by the party.
"My hope is that (Perez) will direct the party toward working from the bottom up," he said.
Buttigieg, an openly gay, progressive Democrat who has found success in a red state, also expressed concern with what he views as a "profoundly self-defeating" effort among activists from the liberal wing of the party to back primary challengers to Democratic lawmakers who cooperate with the President in any way.
"I think one of the big problems in Democratic politics is an ideology that's organized completely around Republican politics and ideology," Buttigieg said. "And the only way we take somebody's measure is to evaluate how vigorously they oppose or how closely they imitate Republican policies."
Buttigieg advised Democrats to embrace the diversity of perspective within the party, which he views as one of its core strengths, and instead focus on beating back Republican efforts in Congress.
"If we want to win, we've got to concentrate our efforts on the opposition -- the real opposition -- and that is congressional Republicans and this President that they enable," Buttigieg said.
To hear the whole conversation with Buttigieg, click on http://podcast.cnn.com
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