Bryan Schott’s Political BS: Five Ways to Lose a Debate

Now that the first Congressional debate is behind us, there are a number of lessons we can take away from the contest, especially if you want to be sure to lose.

Democratic candidate Donna McAleer gave a masters class on how to lose a debate, and look terrible doing it. That’s disappointing, mostly because this is her second run at Bishop. She’s likely not going to get another shot at him in a one-on-one setting. People who know her say, in person, she’s smart and engaging. But, on Tuesday, none of that came out.

So, let’s take a look at what McAleer’s performance on Tuesday can teach us about how to lose a debate with…what’s the opposite of panache?

Make sure you write everything you want to say down and look at your notes constantly throughout the debate.

I can’t stress this enough. If you want to lose the audience, look down at your podium a hell of a lot. If you lose the audience, you lose the debate. Nothing is more important than your notes, especially if you have some cutsey lines you want to make sure you don’t forget. Eye contact with the audience is overrated. Your notes are safety. Your notes won’t judge you. Your notes love you for who you are on the inside.

Practice, and make sure you look like you’ve practiced.

Looking relaxed in front of the audience puts them at ease and makes you look confident. If you want to lose, you can’t afford that. Reciting answers in areas where you have tons of expertise in a way that makes it look overrehearsed completely kills any credibility you may have. When McAleer was talking about Hill Air Force Base or her experience using guns in the military, subjects in which he has a ton of knowledge, she came off as less-than-credible because she gave the impression the answers didn’t come from her, but from her script writers.

Speak rapidly and stumble over your words in an effort to get every point in.

You have a limited amount of time to make your point (that hopefully you’ve written down), so you need to rush to make sure you get it in. McAleer did this wonderfully in Tuesday’s debate, leaving us with fantastically mangled sentences such as “Our immigration system is broke.”

You also need to talk in circles and verbally stumble. Try to make sense of her treatise on the “historical fallacy” of the enabling act when she was discussing control of public lands. She basically relied on a tautology – It’s an historical fallacy because it’s an historical fallacy – to make her point.

Don’t use your hands when you talk and minimize body language.

If there’s one thing audiences like, it’s looking natural. If you want to lose a debate, then make sure you keep your hands welded to your podium, gripping the edges like your life depends on it. Don’t gesture. Don’t use your hands to emphasize a point. Simply keep them down.

McAleer used a severe facial expression throughout most of the debate. It looked painful for her. She didn’t look like she was having fun at all. On the other hand, Rob Bishop was casual and comfortable. She looked like a student giving a verbal defense of her thesis, while Bishop was answering bar trivia with his buddies between plates of wings.

That’s a shame because some of the things she was saying were actually better than Bishop, but it got lost because it appeared she was so nervous she couldn’t relax…Which is the exact recipe you want to follow if you plan to lose.

Look as much like Sarah Palin as possible.

Nothing says “debate disaster” like trying to look like the half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. I’m sure McAleer was hoping to project an air of competence – dark colored suit, flash of color with her blouse. But, donning those glasses made me think of Sarah Palin every time she was on screen. It was distracting.

You would think somebody on her campaign would look at her choice of outfit and say “You know, you might want to de-Palinize yourself a little.”  

In her campaign materials, McAleer’s look is softer and more relatable. It seems the advice she got for the debate was to look serious and intellectual, but she came off as humorless and unapproachable.

For a candidate who has a rich resume of experience and a lot to offer, it’s impressive she was able to bring so many of these bad elements together in one messy package on Tuesday’s debate stage.

Taken singularly, each one of these is usually not enough to sink a candidate at a debate. But McAleer harnessed a “perfect storm” on Tuesday.

It was a glorious wreck, in exactly the wrong place and time for McAleer.

Some people say NASCAR is popular simply because fans want to see a massive 20-car pileup. I contend a political debate pileup can be far more entertaining.

If you follow this recipe for failure, you too could be well on your way to an exciting time losing political debates.