Pete Buttigieg told "Axios on HBO" that "we've probably had excellent presidents who were gay — we just didn't know which ones."

Why it matters: Buttigieg, who is rising in polls and would be the first openly gay nominee of either party, talks easily about his sexual orientation when asked. This comment is a new window into his thinking.

Transcript

"Axios on HBO:" "Republicans claimed that John Kerry was a traitor in Vietnam. That Barack Obama was a Muslim. If you were to win the nomination, they'll say you're too young, too liberal, too gay to be commander-in-chief. You are young. You are a liberal. You are gay. How will you respond?"

Pete Buttigieg: "I'll respond by explaining where I want to lead this country. People will elect the person who will make the best president. And we have had excellent presidents who have been young. We have had excellent presidents who have been liberal. I would imagine we've probably had excellent presidents who were gay — we just didn't know which ones."

"Axios on HBO:" "You believe that we've had a gay commander-in-chief?"

Pete Buttigieg: "I mean, statistically, it's almost certain."

"Axios on HBO:" "In your reading of history, do you believe you know who they were?"

Pete Buttigieg: "My gaydar even doesn't work that well in the present, let alone retroactively. But one can only assume that's the case."

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