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Debate coach: Buttigieg and Yang stole the show

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During the MSNBC/The Washington Post debate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard claimed Mayor Pete Buttigieg lacked experience. That's when the gloves came off, and things got heated.

Posted: Nov 21, 2019 12:50 PM
Updated: Nov 21, 2019 12:50 PM

In my career, I've never been accused of grade inflation but I found Wednesday evening's debate to be the best overall this season -- so my grade book runneth over. My two As really were a tie at the top.

A

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor Pete demonstrated some sweet debating techniques that I teach, yet rarely see deployed as well as he did last night. He pivoted questions to keep his answers on topic, but still unique from the other candidates -- and by doing so he provided himself with an advantage.

Buttigieg struck on one key point that, as he noted, has been largely swept under the rug: "The President had to confess in writing, in court, to illegally diverting charitable contributions that were supposed to go to veterans." Many Democrats will agree that the country needed to hear somebody on a national stage emphasize that important point.

But Buttigieg was not a one-trick pony. Far from it. Let's examine his defense. He smoothly reframed the attacks that were leveled at him so that they played to his advantage. For instance, he was asked why he's a candidate worth backing, given that he lost his only statewide election. He replied that, while he may not have "traditional establishment Washington experience," that's not necessarily what the country needs. And when Senator Amy Klobuchar raised the point again, he shot back, saying, "There's more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we right now as a country?"

Buttigieg made it clear that he isn't going to roll over for anybody, especially Donald Trump. Voters needed to see well-harnessed assertiveness, and Buttigieg's tone and demeanor were just right this time.

A

Andrew Yang

I don't grade on a lack of speaking time, since it's not the candidate's fault. I coach my teams to make fewer arguments than our competitors, but to make sure the positions we take are thorough and well-grounded.

That said, I dare you to find a bad answer from Andrew Yang in last night's debate. Hint: You won't. He scored an A from me every single time he spoke. I've never witnessed that before.

While it was well into the debate before Yang spoke, his answers about some of the threats to American society once again, brought new ideas to the debate stage. Artificial intelligence, which he's mentioned in previous debates, is a future threat that must be taken seriously. And setting up something like a WTO (World Trade Organization) for data? His ingenuity was astounding. Bold ideas suit Yang well -- and, when well thought out and pragmatic, they get high points in a debate.

A-

Kamala Harris

She's a master at criticizing others without coming across as a jerk. She called out Tulsi Gabbard for spending "four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama" before going on to admonish her efforts to be chummy with Trump and Steve Bannon, and her criticism of the Democratic party. It was a horrible look for Gabbard.

On policy, Harris also shone. She displayed great knowledge of foreign policy, North Korea, race and women's issues, and rebuilding Democratic coalitions.

A-

Bernie Sanders

Sanders has found his groove in the last two debates. But he wasn't perfect. For example, he should have given a more direct answer to the question about whether chants of "locking him up" (referring to Donald Trump) should be discouraged.

He did have strong moments, however. In a clever pivot, when asked to defend how Medicare for All is a "revolution," Sanders pointed to the "cruel" and "dysfunctional" health care system before backing his answer up with statistics on how many Americans go bankrupt over medical bills.

Sanders was also excellent on answers about the need to work now to fix climate change and his willingness to deal with controversial adversaries from the Taliban to Saudi Arabia and Iran.

B+

Elizabeth Warren

I'm a sucker for folding breaking news into a debate, and Warren put selling ambassadorships front and center after Gordon Sondland's impeachment testimony yesterday. Well done indeed.

Even better was when she articulated her three-year plan for Medicare for All, and it answered many questions that have been posed in the past. She needs to continue adding this to her answer. She also had a sharp explanation about the fact that we subsidize white, but not black wealth through housing. I lowered her score a bit due to her response that the number of people who serve in the military should be higher; while she gave a heartfelt answer about the benefit of service to the country, she didn't clarify whether she believes the military could use a larger number of troops.

B

Cory Booker

Logical flaws are not an issue with the senator. Booker had an interesting answer on abortion by linking it to voter suppression. He also spoke intelligently about homeownership and gentrification.

But in some areas, he came up short. His best criticism of Biden was off-topic. Booker was asked an important question about Trump's border wall, but he gave a two-line response before turning to a discussion of race and marijuana, and using it as an opportunity to attack Biden.

If candidates chose to ignore the question and pivot to that they think are their best positions instead, what are the moderators for?

B-

Joe Biden

I teach my debaters the importance of every single word. You can lose a debate by simply saying the wrong word at the wrong time. Enter Joe Biden.

Yes, he made a couple of big gaffes. You don't use the word "punching" when emphasizing a talking point about domestic violence. And it matters. You don't refer to the "only African-American woman that's ever been elected to the United States Senate." (Another one was standing on stage with you, Joe.) His defense was that he thought he said "first," but he didn't. He said "only." And it matters. These small mistakes might have not been a huge setback for any other candidate, but they are magnified because of Biden's history of slip-ups.

I'm predicting pundits will focus on those two incidents and lose track of the bigger picture, which is that Biden was having his best debate yet. His "only" mistake overshadowed a great response to Booker's attack about legalizing marijuana. Decriminalize it, and let out those who are jailed because of it.

Apart from the mess-ups, Biden was on a roll. Plus, his critique of Tom Steyer for having invested in the coal industry hit home.

B-

Amy Klobuchar

If there's one thing we know about Amy Klobuchar, it's that she loves a good canned line. Actually, I enjoyed one too — her quip about receiving $17k for her campaign from her ex-boyfriends was kind of funny, for a change.

Klobuchar had many thoughtful answers on everything from voter suppression to women being held to a higher standard, to abortion. Her biggest error was criticizing Buttigieg's lack of experience, and she ended up getting the worst of the exchange when Buttigieg responded with a sharp answer.

C-

Tom Steyer

He still needs a public speaking coach. His eye contact with the moderators was better at first, but by the end of the debate, they were again fixated on the camera.

It didn't help his grade that Biden accused him of ties to the coal industry prior to his turn to politics, while others were fighting for the environment.

Guilt is a weird motivator. And Steyer had no good answer to this criticism.

On a positive note, he had a good answer about addressing homelessness.

D-

Tulsi Gabbard

She was called out by both Harris and Buttigieg -- effectively.

Gabbard had a good answer on the reform needed in the criminal justice system, but then mistakenly pivoted from it to preaching about treating people with respect. She should have stayed on topic.

She could have given a thoughtful answer about climate change but she instead said it was not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is coming from a candidate who has appeared on conservative television and radio, where climate change is used as a wedge issue between the scientific community and the public. Voters (and debate coaches) will at best see this as an insincere attempt to preach unity and at worst see it as deeply hypocritical.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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