Be Prepared For The Gish Gallop At Tonight’s Debate

If there’s one near certainty about tonight’s presidential debate, it’s that Trump will do a whole lot of Gish Galloping because, as we like to note, nothing in conservatism makes sense except in the light of creationism (with apologies to Theodosius Dobzhansky).

For those who don’t know what a Gish Gallop is, it’s the form of argument used by creationist Duane Gish to argue against evolutionary biology. Here’s the best definition of the Gish Gallop I’ve found (boldface mine):

Named for the debate tactic created by creationist shill Duane Gish, a Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more ‘talking points’ that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it’s not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation. A true Gish Gallop generally has two traits.

1) The factual and logical content of the Gish Gallop is pure bullshit and anybody knowledgeable and informed on the subject would recognize it as such almost instantly. That is, the Gish Gallop is designed to appeal to and deceive precisely those sorts of people who are most in need of honest factual education.

2) The points are all ones that the Galloper either knows, or damn well should know, are totally bullshit. With the slimier users of the Gish Gallop, like Gish himself, its a near certainty that the points are chosen not just because the Galloper knows that they’re bullshit, but because the Galloper is deliberately trying to shovel as much bullshit into as small a space as possible in order to overwhelm his opponent with sheer volume and bamboozle any audience members with a facade of scholarly acumen and factual knowledge.

There’s an additional point about how difficult it is to refute a Gish Gallop (boldface mine):

The tedium inherent in untangling a gish gallop typically allows for very little “creative license” or vivid rhetoric (in deliberate contrast to the exciting point-dashing central to the galloping), which in turn risks boring the audience or readers, further loosening the refuter’s grip on the crowd.

This is especially true in that the galloper need only win a single one out of all his component arguments in order to be able to cast doubt on the entire refutation attempt. For this reason, the refuter must achieve a 100% success ratio (with all the yawn-inducing elaboration that goes with such precision). Thus, gish galloping is frequently used (and particularly devastating) in timed debates, and in character-limited debate mediums, such as over Twitter or in newspaper editorials.

There’s one way to ‘beat’ a Gish Gallop, but it’s one that pundits don’t like: character attacks. If you make your opponent seem untrustworthy or out-of-control, you can defeat the messenger–the message is too convoluted to confront head-on. That’s not winning ‘on points’, but that’s the only reliable way to beat a Gish Gallop.

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