Voters will get their last chance to see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on stage together Wednesday for the third and final presidential debate at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
Before Wednesday night’s debate, Morning Shift talks to two people skilled in the art of debates—Daniel Fitzmier, who coaches the Northwestern University Debate Society; and Chris Callahan, a Debate Society team member and a debate champion.
Q: Can diversion and deflection work as a debate tactic?
Chris Callahan: Absolutely, in certain contexts. But you have to do it in a certain way. I think one of the things in debate [that] is most important is developing a sort of positive vision for how you want your vision of the world … or your proposal to play out.
I think one of the things that Mr. Trump does which is very interesting: His diversion tactic was very negative. ‘We’re living in medieval times, ISIS is all over the globe, there are wars everywhere.’ Whether or not that is actually the case, his form of diversion is very negative. It relies on an almost fear factor of here are all the other things you should be afraid of, rather than the sexual innuendo or the things I said on this tape from 2005 or whatever.
I think in debate, diversion is most effective when it diverts toward the positive parts of your advocacy. So if Trump had instead diverted toward all the different ways he was going to make the country better, I think that—from a debate perspective—might be a more effective appeal. Now, his strategy of pinning the world falling into catastrophe has worked for some parts of the Republican base, so I can’t blame him for using that one more time.
Q: If you were coaching Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, what advice would you give them heading into this final debate?
Daniel Fitzmier: For Secretary Clinton, I would suggest that she does not depart from her general set of tactics that she has deployed thus far. I think it’s served her well. I’d advise her to reach out more to the remaining voters in the center who might be undecided.
For Mr. Trump, depending on what his ultimate goals are here in this cycle, I would argue that—if he’s come to the conclusion that it’s gotten a little bit away from him and his next move is a move into media—he should use this stage to play to his base. If he’s concluded that there’s a particular number of states that are still flippable, and that he can really make a strong go at the end, I would really encourage him to focus on the real particular demographics and the specific set of issues that folks are really concerned about in those areas. Maybe depart a little bit from his previous tactics, which have been less engaging on the issues that I think will determine this election.
At the end of the day, it’s about the arguments, and it’s about public policy, and that’s what determines presidential debates.
Chris Callahan: I agree with Fitz, as we call him, and the advice for Secretary Clinton not to divert from her current strategy of appearing poised and prepared and on the issues.
For Mr. Trump, I would say the same thing as well. I think he can only help himself by appearing more particular and poised in these next debates given what a negative set of perceptions he’s had from appearing sort of off the rail in the last two debates.
The third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump takes place Wednesday, October 19, at 8 P.M. CT. It airs live on WBEZ Chicago 91.5 FM.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click on the ‘Play’ button above to listen to the entire segment.