LAWRENCE — How do you approach debating someone like Donald Trump, who frames himself as an outsider and doesn’t “play by the rules?” A new book edited and written by communications scholars and college debate coaches from across the country attempts to tackle that question while reviewing what’s happened thus far in the debates of Trump’s brief political career.
“Debating The Donald,” edited by Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan, features chapters from a University of Kansas debate coach and five KU communication studies graduates. Each chapter analyzes Trump’s performance in the 12 Republican primaries of this election cycle and illuminates what other politicians and debate viewers can learn.
Brett Bricker is associate director of KU’s debate program and assistant specialist of communication studies. He said each chapter breaks down how each debate unfolded, who was in the lead in the polls at the time and who was leading after the event. It also shares lessons and takeaways that debaters who would face Trump in the future, such as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, would do well to learn.
“I think this election cycle is quite unique in that people don’t know what to expect,” Bricker said. “In a sense, Trump is not a common politician, so we don’t know what will happen from one debate to the next.”
Bricker wrote the chapter on the GOP primary held in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the eighth of 12 primary debates. He analyzed the debate and wrote the chapter with Sarah Topp, litigation consultant at JurySync who earned a doctorate in communication studies at KU. They noted in Trump's performance at the event his willingness to directly attack the audience, an uncommon tactic to say the least.
“If the crowd booed, he would claim they were bought off by the GOP or the media, or others like the health insurance industry,” Bricker said. “It’s a unique strategy, but he gets to do that and get away with it because he’s perceived as an outsider.”
“Debating the Donald” was published by a private press and all proceeds will benefit two nonprofit organizations that support debating. The Women’s Debate Institute promotes women’s participation in debate as well as offering camps and promotes equity in the field. The J.W. Patterson Foundation for Academic Excellence in Speech and Debate provides scholarships to high school students to attend debate camps. The book is available in paperback and as an ebook online.
In addition to editing the book, Kall wrote introductory and conclusion chapters analyzing how Trump has reached this point and how his unorthodox style will influence the general election in November. He recruited authors from some of the country’s top debate programs, such as the University of Minnesota, Samford University, Missouri State University, Trinity University, Idaho State University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Miami and Wayne State University. In addition to Bricker and Topp, Eric Morris of Missouri State; Sarah Partlow-Lefevre of Idaho State; and Ben Voth of Southern Methodist all earned their doctorates in communication studies at KU.
While the first debate between Trump and Clinton is coming up Sept. 26 and the election is less than two months away, Bricker said the book will hold value well into the future and will serve as a primer or guide to anyone interested in watching the presidential debates. Nearly 200 million people watched the GOP primary debates, and the numbers are expected to be similarly enormous for the presidential contests.
“I think Trump marks a new era in American politics. It may lead to a shift in the GOP, or a more robust third party, we don’t know,” Bricker said. “There will be more politicians in the future who use this same anti-establishment philosophy. I think that will continue and people will be thinking about this era in American politics for quite some time.”
Photo by Michael Vadon