Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) vs. South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg is not the duel we were expecting Wednesday night at the fifth Democratic primary debate, but boy did it deliver. They are the only two candidates in the race who served in the military. But instead of bonding over their shared experience, it became a sharp point of contrast. Gabbard accused him of having a lacking the relevant foreign policy creds necessary to be commander in chief.
Throw in an "outlandish" accusation about Buttigieg supporting a military invasion of Mexico, and we got a firestorm of an exchange.
"I think the most recent example of your inexperience in national security and foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels," she alleged.
Buttigieg was stunned.
"I know that it's par for the course in Washington to take remarks out of context, but that is outlandish, even by the standards of today's politics," he responded.
"I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation," he explained. "We've been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years. With law enforcement cooperation, and the military relationship that could continue to be developed."
The audience loved his counter question for Gabbard.
"Do you seriously think anyone on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?"
Buttigieg could have stopped there but he wasn't quite done. How could he pass up the chance to remind the audience that Gabbard has defended her meeting with brutal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
He may not have that Washington experience his opponents mentioned, but he "has enough judgment to know that he wouldn't sit down with a murderous dictator like that."
Buttigieg was expected to be a big target on Wednesday because he's the new, clear frontrunner in Iowa.