NPR Analysis Of The Democratic Debate & Buttigieg's Performance

Nov 20, 2019

 

Credit Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Buttigieg, Gabbard Clash Over Foreign Policy

In one of the final exchanges of tonight’s debate, Pete Buttigieg, a former Navy intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, and Tulsi Gabbard, who was deployed to Iraq and serves as a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, squared off over the issue of experience.

They are among the youngest presidential candidates in the field, and the only Democrats on stage tonight with military credentials.

Gabbard began the exchange by noting that being a military veteran alone doesn’t qualify a person to serve as commander-in-chief before assessing Buttigieg’s “inexperience in national security and foreign policy.” She said that Buttigieg recently made a “careless statement” saying that he would be willing to send US troops to Mexico to fight cartels.

Gabbard touted her experience in Congress -- she’s served on the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees -- and also noted that she’s met with leaders of countries around the world.

Buttigieg called Gabbard’s interpretation of his comments “outlandish.” (You can read more about his views in this interview with The Washington Post.)  But he also attacked her for the meeting that she had with the Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, in January 2017.

“If your question is about experience, let’s also talk about judgement. One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar Al-Assad. I have in my experience, such as it is, whether you think it counts or not since it wasn’t accumulated in Washington that I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator,” Buttigieg shot back.

This is not the first debate that has featured a foreign policy clash between Gabbard and Buttigieg. During the October debate, they had a fiery clash over the question of what role the U.S. should play in Syria.

Buttigieg And Race

The bulk of the debate had been largely uneventful -- until the issue of race came up. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been surging in state polls, but he’s struggled to win over black voters.

Sen. Kamala Harris said a stock photo that was used by Buttigieg’s campaign using someone from Kenya to represent an American black voter was indicative of a larger problem of Democrats taking black constituencies for granted.

Buttigieg responded this way: “My response is, I completely agree. I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters who don’t yet know me.” He added before he talks about his plans, he wants to “tell you what’s in my heart.” He also pivoted to point out that he’s gay and married, and that he likely wouldn’t have been able to be on this stage not long ago. Point being: he has an idea of what it means to be marginalized.

Halftime Speaking Times: Warren Dominates, Buttigieg Doesn’t

At the midway point of this two-hour debate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has dominated on speaking times so far. She’s followed closely by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who had a strong debate last month and has had plenty of zingers this time around too.

But near the bottom of the pack is South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. While many thought he would be an early target given his rising spot in the polls, especially in Iowa, he hasn’t been a major player so far. He has gotten just over four minutes of speaking time, compared with Warren’s almost seven minutes.

By the end of the debate, Buttigieg claimed more speaking time (12 min. 56 sec.) finishing with the second highest number of minutes and seconds, behind only Elizabeth Warren who spoke for 13 min. 31 sec.

Whose Last Debate May This Have Been?

Tonight’s closing statements gave some candidates a chance to make a plea to supporters to try to help them make the next debate in December.

One candidate who had a strong night and several memorable moments but who’s in danger of not making the cut is New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. He recalled seeing Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, in the audience and how Lewis’ struggle fighting for equal rights inspired him to run for office.

“We must continue, as he says, to make good trouble. If you agree, join me. … Keep me on this stage — keep me in this fight,” Booker pleaded.

He’s one of four onstage who hasn’t qualified yet for the December debate, though Tom Steyer has now hit the polling requirement but needs to hit the donor threshold too. Also possibly on the chopping block: Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang.