Disappointing performances from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders

The Univision Democratic debate in 90 seconds
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    The Univision Democratic debate in 90 seconds

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The Univision Democratic debate in 90 seconds 01:30

Story highlights

  • Wednesday's Democratic debate took place at Miami Dade College
  • Todd Graham: Debate offered uninspired performances from both candidates

Todd Graham is director of debate at Southern Illinois University. His teams have won national championships for three years, and he's been recognized twice as the national debate coach of the year. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)One of the techniques I teach my debate team is to weave current events into our arguments as much as possible. But neither Bernie Sanders nor Hillary Clinton understood that you shouldn't just give the same answers as in previous debates. You need to make your arguments responsive to what's happening in the campaign. Failing to take advantage of the situation post-Michigan, both candidates' grades fell in Wednesday night's debate in Miami.

Todd Graham
Sanders: C
    Keep the momentum. That should have been his primary goal. On every answer -- from Latino issues, to universal health care, to free public college tuition, to his vote against the war in Iraq -- Sanders should have weaved in his campaign theme of a political revolution. Something like this: "Hey...this could actually work...even the people in Michigan agree. People all over the country are voting for me, just like Michigan, because they know it's more than a dream, it's a possibility. Don't listen to the polls, we won't give up till we have the nomination in hand!"
    I think that's a solid approach. Instead, he gave the same answers from previous debates, on every issue, with no frame of reference to his "Yuge" victory in Michigan except in his opening.
    More than that, Sanders honesty took a hit. He's consistently seen among the presidential candidates as the most "honest" and "trustworthy" in polls. He voted against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 and claimed in previous debates that he did it for the welfare of the guest workers, who would have been akin to "slaves."
    However, when shown a videotape of his explanation at the time, Sanders stated that guest workers would, "work for lower wages and drive wages down even lower," for American workers. When confronted with this contradiction, Sanders simply ignored it. He continued his usual approach of reminding everyone that even some Latinos were against the bill and it was bad for the guest workers. Correct, senator. But this revisionist rationale is not why you stated at the time you voted against it.
    And in another videotape, Sanders is seen as praising Fidel Castro. Just like in the previous video, Sanders ignored it, and instead insisted that the United States shouldn't be overthrowing other countries. Maybe so, but that's not what young (did you see how young he was!) Sanders just said in the interview screened.
    Sanders took a hit on Latino issues in the debate, especially his veracity on the subject.
    Clinton: C
    Hillary Clinton should have focused on pulling voters back to her. The one area she possibly succeeded was on Latino issues. Clinton was stronger than Sanders on this issue, but it was by no means her best debate on the topic, given her lack of clarity on some of the answers. More than anything, she put doubt in our mind over Sanders.
    Still, when asked about why she lost Michigan, she gave a non-answer, rambling about how she won one and lost one and that it's a marathon and that she's overall pleased, and blah, blah, blah.
    No. Clinton should answer the question, and do it in a way that makes her seem personable. Something like this: "I think we could have fought harder to encourage our supporters to get out and vote, and I can do a much better job persuading millennials not just why I'm a progressive, but also the only pragmatic candidate who can really get things done. Losing Michigan was my fault, I'll do better in the future, and I hope my supporters will take this as a call to action!"
    I like my answer better.
    Then when she was asked about her low approval ratings for honesty and trustworthiness. Again answered with, "blah, blah...painful...something." Toward the end of her answer, Clinton almost became human when she stated "I'm not a natural politician, like my husband or President Obama, so I just do the best I can."
    Yes. This is better. Now ride that thought out to the finish, Secretary Clinton. You should say that your numbers would be higher, but you occasionally have to make tough calls, like voting for the immigration reform bill or voting for the bailout that helped both Wall Street and the Detroit automakers. It makes her appear less genuine than someone like Sanders who can just vote "no" all the time, but in the end, she's making compromises in order to get important policies passed and into law.
    Overall, the debate was unexpectedly dull. I don't mean by Republican debating standards, since the Real Housewives of Washington DC debates can't be matched in entertainment value. I would have expected the Michigan result to light a fire under Hillary Clinton, but if it did, then she's a well-trained hot-coal-walker, since she sashayed her way through this debate as if she had nowhere else to go. As for Sanders, well, the videos don't lie. His explanations of them demonstrated little concern, as if the people watching somehow couldn't see them.
    Considering what has been going on in the actual primary voting, this debate offered uninspired performances from both candidates.