Trump uses an infamous debating tactic called Gish galloping. It's brilliantly simple. He just blasts a sewer pipe of lies, insults, and accusations, giving his debating partner no chance to keep up with him. Political journalist Mehdi Hasan new book, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking, has a chapter on how to beat a Gish galloping debater. It's excerpted in The Atlantic.
Hasan's three-point strategy in a nutshell:
- Pick your battles: single out weak claims and arguments, and focus on debunking them.
- Call them out: make the audience aware of what the Gish Galloper is doing and that it is a deliberate tactic to deflect and distract.
- Don't budge: stop the Galloper midstream and stick to a well-prepared rebuttal, forcing them to argue on your terms, not theirs.
For years, Trump Gish Galloped unchecked, disorienting opponents and audiences alike. Unprepared, time-limited, or weak-willed interviewers and moderators would fail to interject, correct, or take a pause to respond to his nonsense. That is, until August 2020, when my friend Jonathan Swan, then a national political correspondent for Axios, sat down with the then-president for a televised interview.
Trump tried to recite a bunch of dodgy stats on COVID-19, to pretend he had the pandemic under control. But Swan wouldn't let him. When Trump started waving a bunch of printouts of graphs and tables, Swan inspected them and debunked the president's claims in real time. Throughout, Swan gave Trump plenty of openings to speak, but he never let him get up to Galloping speed.
As soon as it aired, Swan's interview went viral. This was the rare moment that revealed Trump's Gish Gallop for exactly what it was: a deliberate strategy to deflect and distract.