Is Donald Trump a competent speaker

Clinton vs. Trump: The German debater explains what is important in the TV duel tonight

The first televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will last an hour and a half. The process is as follows: There are six content blocks of fifteen minutes each, each beginning with a question from the moderator, to which Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can each answer for two minutes. Then the open debate on the topic begins.

Clinton and Trump's goal at this point in the election campaign is to convince undecided voters in those states where there are no clear favorites (so-called "swing states"). This is especially true for large states like Pennsylvania and Florida, which play an important role in the election result.

The three keys to success in a debate

How do you win over the audience in a debate? The ancient rhetoric distinguishes three aspects with which one can convince in a debate:

  • Ethos, for example the "image" of the speaker,
  • pathos, the conveyed emotions,
  • Logos, the content of the speech.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have different strengths and weaknesses at these levels. Trump is well received by his voters because they see him as a character, while Clinton's voters see him as a notorious liar and opportunistic demagogue. Clinton is considered by many to be much more technically competent than Trump, but has a trust problem due to the e-mail scandal.

Both have different priorities in terms of content: With Trump, the US has degenerated into a country that has continuously lost security, prosperity and influence through immigration. In his portrayal, Hillary Clinton is a puppet of those who are promoting liberal immigration policy here at the expense of the honestly working population. It is the corrupt and corrupting establishment. If Trump succeeds in convincing the audience of this narrative in the course of the debate, his chances in the election campaign will increase.

Clinton's narrative is a different one: The United States depends on factual politics in difficult times. Complex crises cannot be countered with simple solutions. Instead, the solution lies in social unity and rationality. The division of the country weakens the United States. Clinton appears as a cool, experienced thinker who is also aware of social problems and wants to fight them. During the televised debate, she will try to strengthen this image. By appearing as emphatic as possible, she should try to attract that part of the electorate who feels abandoned by the political system and could therefore lapse into Trump's content.

Which strategy is the right one for Trump and Clinton?

Trump has to attack: He has to repeatedly point out the failure of the political system, Clinton's lack of emotion, the shady machinations and weaknesses of the previous administration and thus put Clinton on the defensive. If he succeeds in focusing the debate on these alleged grievances, he wins. Examples of scandals, enemy images and comparisons with times when everything was supposedly better ("make America great again") are his weapons.

Clinton, on the other hand, has to make a name for himself: She has to show the electorate that the world is not easy and that complex issues require complex solutions. It has to present analyzes and concrete plans and at the same time prove that Trump's solutions cannot be implemented. An example: in his speech on economic policy, Trump announced that he would massively restrict foreign exports to the US and export more abroad. Which economically developed country would accept more imports from the USA if Trump wanted to deny this country its own exports at the same time?

Clinton needs to point out these contradictions, but her point should be brief. She doesn't win by talking about Trump for minutes. But to really get ahead of the election campaign through the debate, it also has to show an emotional side. She has to prove to voters that she is genuinely concerned and angry about the grievances in the country. If she can do that, she can overcome the distance to them and refute the social disinterest that Trump accuses her.

Trump's debate strategy will be easier to implement than that of his competitor. But if Clinton is successful, she can expand her lead in the polls and thus come a big step closer to winning the election.


About the author: Lennart Lokstein is the current master of German-speaking debating and is studying general rhetoric at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen. During university debates, speakers compete against each other as teams on various political topics. In addition to various German-language tournaments, he has also been a juror at world and European championships. He learned his trade while studying at the Tübinger Debattierclub Streitkultur e.V., where students hold debates twice a week to try to convince an audience of a vacant position.