Ed Lee: Aristotle judged debate on character, reasoning, emotion. On character, Kasich won, Huckabee was runner-up, Rand Paul lost
He says on reasoning, Huckabee won, Trump lost; on emotion, Ben Carson won, Trump lost
Editor’s Note: Ed Lee is the senior director of debate in the Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education at Emory University, where he has been a debate coach since 2004 and has received national awards for his work. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The ancient Greeks established a path to winning a debate long ago. The effectiveness of an argument, or its persuasiveness, according to Aristotle in his “Art of Rhetoric”, can be determined by analyzing three types of appeals: ethos (character), logos (reasoning) and pathos (emotion). All were on display in the first Republican primary debate Thursday in Cleveland.
An analysis of how the 10 candidates used character, reasoning, and emotion can help show which of them effectively communicated that he should be the 45th President of the United States. For a debate coach, it helps determine who won the debate.
Ethos builds credibility and trust with the people through wisdom, moral character and goodwill.
Winner –John Kasich
Kasich was fantastic. He was confident throughout the debate. While it felt like the other candidates were in a race to one-up each other, Kasich came across as refreshingly real and authentic. His defense of simultaneously opposing gay marriage and respecting the Supreme Court’s decision will be well received across the political spectrum. I expect Kasich’s poll numbers to skyrocket after this performance.
Runner- up - Mike Huckabee
Huckabee was credible. He showed himsef as a principled conservative populist who is pro-life for both the unborn and the poor. His defense of Social Security with the same vigor as his opposition to abortion demonstrated his moral consistency.
Loser – Rand Paul
Paul came into the night with a clear agenda: to take the fight to Donald Trump. However, his biggest confrontation was with Chris Christie over details of the Patriot Act. Paul had an excellent opportunity to claim the moral high ground as a defender of rights and liberty…and he came across as unhinged.
Logos appeals to well-reasoned logical argument backed up by evidence.
Winner: Mike Huckabee
Huckabee was well prepared for the debate. Every answer and suggestion was concise and well-supported with reasons and evidence. His defense of the use of the 5th and 14th Amendment as supporting his argument against abortion based on scientific research was one of the best answers on the night.
Runner- up: John Kasich
Kasich’s didn’t force us to wait too long for the most well supported answer of the debate. His explanation on taking federal money for Medicaid was an outstanding use of logic as a method of persuasion. The deficit hawk defended the move as a way to save billions in Ohio’s budget.
Loser: Donald Trump
As a debater, Trump showed all flash and seemed uninterested in justifying his opinion or providing sound reasoning. His use of one alleged conversation he said he had with a border patrol official to disparage Mexico, a major U.S. ally, was the first of many exchanges where he opted for hyperbole instead of reason and evidence.
Pathos stirs the audience’s emotion to establish a common bond.
Winner: Ben Carson
Carson had the strongest final speech. Highlighting his remarkable accomplishments as a neurosurgeon served to remind the audience that there is a smarter, less bombastic anti-government outsider in the race. His defense of colorblindness was a brilliant move as well.
Runner-up: Donald Trump
With his bravado, he solidified his status with those looking for a hypermasculine defender of incivility. He was entertaining: His statement about lenders being killers we shouldn’t worry about was one of the best sound bites of the evening. The question for the Republican Party: Do you want the presidential nominee to be more than political entertainment?
Loser: Jeb Bush
Bush was OK. That is the problem. He has money and voter support. You have to expect more. His responses to questions about Common Core education and the Bush dynasty were wonkish and weak. There is nothing about his performance that reassures his supporters that he can hold off a Scott Walker or a John Kasich. It was a passionless, reserved performance. His margin for error is a little smaller than before the debate begin.
Overall, the candidates engaged in a good conversation that left the voters with some difficult choices. While Huckabee is a great debater, is he too conservative to win it all? Is Kasich too liberal to win the nomination? Can Bush turn it around?
I hope political commentators assist the Republican voters by offering nuanced analysis of the debate that goes beyond exploring pithy sound bites and impassioned retorts. While both are powerful means of persuasion that stir emotion, we must also acknowledge that silver-tongued, charismatic leaders spearheaded some of history’s worst atrocities by successfully stirring people’s passions when there were few expectations that they be wise, moral or well reasoned.