Pete Buttigieg Talks Climate Change "Hypocrisy," How He Plans to Stand Out in Debates

Scott Kowalchyk/CBS

The South Bend, Ind. mayor also discussed U.S. withdrawal negotiations in Afghanistan and the role of faith in the Democratic primary.

Pete Buttigieg knows that he has to stand out in the upcoming debates if he's going to stand any chance of being the 2020 Democratic nominee.

"Now that it's starting to winnow down, people are starting to look for the contrasts. It will be important for me to convey how I'm different from the others," Buttigieg told Stephen Colbert during an appearance on The Late Show on Thursday night. Referencing the fact that his policy ideas are less left-leaning than some of his fellow candidates, he added, "It's not just a matter of style, it's a matter of approach."

The next debate, for which just 10 candidates qualified, will take place in Houston on Sept. 12 and broadcast on ABC and Univision. The latest HarrisX and YouGov polls have Buttigieg garnering 4 percent and 6 percent support, respectively, behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The South Bend, Ind. mayor also addressed his openness to speaking about his Episcopalian faith on the campaign trail with Colbert, himself a Roman Catholic, during his latest appearance on the CBS show. "I think Democrats have been a little allergic to talking about faith," Buttigieg said. Acknowledging that Democrats have perhaps been loathe to suggest they wouldn't treat people of all faiths equally in office, he added, "at the same time, as we see figures on the right fly in the face not just of my values but their own. It reminds me of the parts of scripture that speak about hypocrisy. I think we have an obligation to call that out," he said.

During CNN's climate change town hall on Wednesday night, Buttigieg called global warming a "sin." To explain that assertion to Colbert, the candidate noted that the environment emerges a number of times in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. "The biggest problem with climate change isn't just the planet ... it's that we are hurting people," he said. "I can't imagine that God will let us off the hook for hurting future generations any more than hurting someone right next to you."

Colbert also asked Buttigieg, an Afghanistan War veteran, to weigh in on whether America can trust the Taliban in withdrawal negotiations. "I think the important thing is to make sure that we have a deal that works for our interests that is enforceable," Buttigieg responded. He said he didn't trust the Taliban as a "nice or great group of folks" but that making peace always involves negotiating with an enemy. The presidential candidate then voiced his opinion that the elected Afghan government should be more involved in the withdrawal process than they have been.

"At the end of the day, we've got to leave. And this is the one thing that the left, the right, the Taliban, the Afghan government and the international community can all agree on is, is that we're leaving. The question is, are we going to leave well or are we going to leave poorly?" he asked.

Colbert then asked whether it was a tactical mistake for America to admit to wanting to leave. "We do have leverage based on the timing and the manner of our departure," Buttigieg pushed back, "as well as the fact that we're going to have some kind of special operations or intelligence capability, no matter what." He warned that if Americans stay in Afghanistan, they would soon receive news of a casualty of a person who was not alive on Sept. 11, 2001.