As a conservative, do you find yourself always having to explain your views to your misguided liberal friends?  A friend once told me that debating for conservatives will always be a challenge since it’s difficult to “teach” intelligence in a minute and a half response.  After watching the recent presidential debates, it’s important to remember that being right in the sense of being philosophically correct is not sufficient to win.  While it’s important for conservatives to learn how to organize our resources efficiently we must also be able to communicate effectively – especially in a debate forum.


These five tips will help you debate the left:


The Opening Statement:

This introductory statement is your opportunity to set the tone of the debate and frame the issues and your opponent before they can do it to you.  Open with a story of why you’re running and briefly state your three major legislative priorities.  The trick is to tie these legislative priorities into an overall theme.  Barack Obama was successful in this regard as he always linked everything back to his themes of “hope” and “change.”  While these overall themes were used ad nauseam, it stuck in the minds of his voters and eventually worked.  If there is not an opening statement, you must blend your introduction into the first response.


Use Conversational Language

When responding to questions you should use a fourth to eighth grade level vocabulary to clearly articulate your positions.  You don’t need to dumb everything down but don’t use George Will-esque language when responding to questions.  Conservatives have a tendency to use such grandeur verbiage to sound exclusively knowledgeable but forget that most people don’t speak that way and you may come across as arrogant or haughty.  (Note: You should never use the word “haughty” in a debate!)   


Using Numbers and Facts

Use numbers only in a way that illustrates your main points.  The trick with using numbers and facts is to use them in terms that people can visually understand.  Instead of saying that “Congress spends twelve billion dollars a year to run themselves,” say “Congress spends more than a dozen states spend on their entire operation!”  People can envision twelve states on a map than they can envision twelve billion dollars because a map is more familiar to them than actually having twelve billion dollars.


Use Transitional Phrases

The biggest mistake a conservative can make is actually answering every question.  Responding to questions is an opportunity for you to get back on message and discuss your overall theme and legislative priorities.  If the moderator or your opponent leads you down a defensive path, use transitional phrases to stay on message.  Stay on offense by using the following transitional phrases: “That’s an interesting point but…,” “I think we’re getting away from the big issue here…,” and “Well, the moms and pops I talk to tell me…” 


Use Stories

Voters love a good story for the same reason you should use visual examples when describing numbers and facts.  People relate better to people than they do to numbers and tend to remember stories more so than legislative minutiae.  In the first presidential debate in 2000, Vice President Al Gore used a story of an elderly lady who collected aluminum cans in order to exchange them for money so she could buy food and medicine.  This image was so powerful that the media ran stories about this elderly lady for several news cycles and was even used in a Saturday Night Live parody the following weekend. (Note: It was later discovered that the elderly lady collected the aluminum cans just for fun!)



Christopher N. Malagisi is President & Principal Founder of the Young Conservatives Coalition (YCC).  He is also the Director of Political & Internet Training at The Leadership Institute and is an Adjunct Professor at American University teaching a course titled “Campaigns & Political Activism.”