Mastering the debate game

American political campaigns have devolved into a great, nationwide reality game show whose two-year seasons seem endless. The winner of the last presidential election was, in fact, the celebrity host and producer of a popular elimination reality game show.

Donald Trump knows how to play the game to win. Now you can, too!

The elimination phase has already started with the Democratic debates, which continue Thursday night. The first two were two-night free-for-alls. Now the field has been trimmed from 20 to 10. Seven men and three women will take the stage together for three hours on Sept. 12.

This is still too many people and too little time for any meaningful policy discussions, so watch for these rhetorical tricks to grab sound bites and stand out from the crowd.

Ad Feminam

A variation on the ad hominem personal attack, this suggests your opponent doesn’t have the necessary background because she is a woman.

Ad Hominem

Latin for “to the man,” this questions your opponent’s character rather than addressing the topic at hand.

And You’re Another

Related to ad hominem and name-calling attacks, this responds in kind instead of sticking to the subject.

Benchmarking

When comparing a condition over time, selecting the starting point, e.g. Did the economic resurgence start under Obama or Trump?

Big Lie

A trick popularized by Adolf Hitler. A lie told often enough and loudly enough is eventually accepted as fact.

Bigger Lie

Responding that your opponent is using the Big Lie, a trick used by the Nazis, thereby associating your opponent with the Nazis.

Changing the Subject

Answering a question about topic A with what you want to say about topic B. Frequently used in the early debates when candidates want to push certain parts of their agenda.

Cherry-Picking

Related to benchmarking, this is selecting data that supports your position while the complete picture may tell another story.

Dark History

Related to ad hominem, this brings up skeletons in the closet that may or may not be provable today.

False Choice

Arguing that there are only two possible outcomes when in fact there may be alternatives or a middle ground.

False Comparison

Best known as “comparing apples and oranges,” this also can apply to arguing that a certain outcome stemmed from an unrelated cause.

Guilt by Association

Arguing that because your opponent is a member of a party or group, that person supports everything that group does.

Misquotes and Quotes Out of Context

Paraphrasing or quoting your opponent in such a way as to make them mean something other than originally intended.

Name-calling

Giving your opponents unsavory labels and forcing them to defend against them.

Name Game

If you can successfully give something a name, you can control it. Used successfully in primaries for the 2016 election.

Oversimplification

National policy issues are complex. Coming up with a sound-bite solution (or summarizing your opponent’s solution) glosses over the details.

Pie-in-the-Sky

Candidates can promise anything, but to achieve it as law usually requires the cooperation of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Straw Man

Misrepresenting your opponent’s position on a topic and then knocking it down. Related to the Big Lie and Oversimplification, this puts the opponent on the defensive to explain the true meaning.