20 | NOV | 2019
(Photo: AP)

U.S. school debaters' give dim view of Trump's podium style

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He would last only a single round, they said.

Donald Trump has dismissed fellow White House hopefuls as liars, journalists as disgusting people and Mexican immigrants as rapists with a belligerent public speaking style that has helped catapult him to the front of the Republican pack.

The verbal tactics, on display in Thursday night's debate in Detroit, have given the billionaire real estate developer front-runner status in early primary contests and opinion polls of U.S. Republican voters. But they would not last long on an academic debate stage, according to high school and college competitors and their coaches.

"He would last one tournament and then be removed from the team," said Eric Di Michele, coach of the speech and debate team at Regis High School in New York, one of the country's top-ranked teams. "This kind of 'ad hominem' attack followed by insults, I've never seen it."

"Ad hominem" attacks, a Latin phrase meaning directed at a person rather than an idea, have long been a staple of the U.S. campaign trail where candidates are selling themselves as much as their ideas to voters. Referring to his closest rivals to be the Republican presidential nominee in November's election, Trump has repeatedly called U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas a "liar" and dismissed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida as "little Marco."

His wins in the early nominating contests have prompted some of his rivals to take a similar approach. Cruz has labeled Trump "profane" and "vulgar." Rubio has poked fun at Trump's tan, suggested he urinated in his pants and rolled out a sexual double entendre about the size of his hands.

With a flourish, Trump kicked back at that on Thursday night, flashing his hands at the audience and asking, "Look at those hands. Are they small hands?" before dismissing any suggestion he might be small elsewhere. "I guarantee you there is no problem."

Di Michele called it "a surreal moment."

"In 34 years of coaching debate, I've never seen any debater reference the size of any part of his anatomy," he said.

Asked in Thursday's debate about his own use of personal attacks, Rubio argued, "For the last year, Donald Trump has basically mocked everybody ... If there's anyone who's ever deserved to be attacked that way it's Donald Trump."

Of the remaining Republican candidates, Ohio Governor John Kasich has steered away from the personal, sticking doggedly to policy amid Thursday night's sometimes chaotic exchanges.

Trump's language, admired by his supporters as frank, has drawn wide criticism for its crude insults. Republican 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked Trump's style as well as his policies in a speech on Thursday, citing "the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics."

In schools, the campaign antics have inspired academic debaters to become more civilized.

"That sort of coarse language has made people more critical of the political parties," said Charlie Barton, a 17-year-old Regis senior debater. "What we've seen is a greater shift away from that sort of rhetoric."


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