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Briefing and Opinion
October 15, 2004

Know thy opponent
1980 Reagan-Carter Presidential Debates

When Martel, Baker and Wirthlin met privately with Reagan, Martel presented a forty-minute videotape on Carter's debating techniques, based primarily on the 1976 encounters with Ford. Martel hoped both to educate Reagan in what to expect from his opponent, and to motivate him to prepare thoroughly and well. Baker, Wirthlin, and Martel then stressed seven points in their summary of the strategy and tactics they viewed essential to success:

  1. Keep the debate focused as much as possible on Carter's record...
  2. Show righteous indignation in responding to Carter's attacks or innuendos
  3. Humor or a confident smile can disarm Carter...
  4. When Carter is speaking -- especially when he is attacking you -- look at him or take notes.
  5. Whenever possible, weave your major theme into your responses: "Jimmy Carter has had his chance and has blown it...I offer promise -- hope."
  6. Conclude your responses with an attack line against Carter or a people-oriented line based on your proposals.
  7. Show compassion by drawing from experiences on the campaign trail.

Source: RHETORICAL STUDIES OF NATIONAL POLITICAL DEBATES 1960-1992, edited by Robert V. Friedenberg of Miami University (of Ohio), Chapter 4, 1980 Reagan-Carter Presidential Debates by Kurt Ritter and David Henry; Myles Martel, Political Campaign Debates: Images, Strategies and Tactics, p. 21
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