Wake Forest University communication and debate experts offer varying insights into the upcoming presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and the campaign overall.
Communication professor Allan Louden says that in a presidential cycle in which almost nothing has been normal, “prognostications carry little weight.”
However, he said there is “high drama potential” with viewership not seen since the Nixon/Kennedy debate. “Will Trump run of out things to say, exposing egregious ignorance, before he ‘gets her goat’ and she implodes? Betting lines form in Vegas.”
Louden has provided expert commentary and analysis for USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, Newsweek and a wide range of other media outlets
Former speechwriter and political consultant John Llewellyn studies and teaches rhetoric, analyzing persuasive language from the nation’s most prominent politicians, coaches and civil rights leaders. He said there are two axioms about debates: Make no glaring errors that can be used in the long term to caste doubt on your judgment or competence and demonstrate or enact stability and competence in the debate itself.
Those are the general rules, “but things are very different so far in this race because one candidate is having serious trouble with these principles even at campaign events he controls,” he said.
Jarrod Atchison, who heads the championship Wake Forest debate team, said Trump’s “debate style is new to political discourse and beyond the realm of decorum for many people.”
Trump is a master of several techniques, he said, the most effective of which is called “the turn around” – understanding when to take another person’s argument and through the re-characterization of the argument, present it as something the audience would object to.
“The question is will the American public at large see this as an acceptable change in our public discourse, having people argue publicly and use more ad hominem attacks which are directed against a person instead of their message,” he said.
Atchison and Llewellyn have both studied the persuasive language involved in conspiracy theories and can comment about Trump’s recent comments on the political system being rigged so that he can’t win.
“It looks like he is already ramping up a long-term argument that the election and even the debates are rigged,” Atchison said.