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What Is ‘Gish Gallop’ and What Does It Have To Do With Thursday’s Debate?

I learned a new phrase this week: Gish gallop. Thank you, Dr. Heather Cox Richardson [1].

In her June 27 “Letters from an American,” she recapped that night’s first Presidential debate between Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican ex-President Donald Trump, and in it she introduced her readers to Gish gallop:

 “This was not a debate. It was Trump using a technique that actually has a formal name, the Gish gallop, although I suspect he comes by it naturally. It’s a rhetorical technique in which someone throws out a fast string of lies, non-sequiturs, and specious arguments, so many that it is impossible to fact-check or rebut them in the amount of time it took to say them. Trying to figure out how to respond makes the opponent look confused, because they don’t know where to start grappling with the flood that has just hit them.

“It is a form of gaslighting, and it is especially effective on someone with a stutter, as Biden has. It is similar to what Trump did to Biden during a debate in 2020. In that case, though, the lack of muting on the mics left Biden simply saying: “Will you shut up, man?” a comment that resonated with the audience. Giving Biden the enforced space to answer by killing the mic of the person not speaking tonight actually made the technique more effective.”

I wasn’t familiar with that term but it definitely described what happened Thursday night. Ironically, I had written that morning here at Bearing Drift [2]:

“It is mind-boggling the sheer volume of untruths that come out of that man’s mouth. … This morning as I read more of the garbage coming from the Trump camp (I won’t repeat it here because we all are hit full in the face every day with a barrage of untruths unleashed like a fire hose) …

“I don’t really want to tune in tonight … I’m so over the Trump show … but this is about the future of our country and the world we will leave for our kids. Those are pretty strong incentives for me.”

So while I was unfamiliar with the term Gish gallop, I was familiar with the technique. A Republican colleague used to spew a stream of arguments at me, non-stop, then ask a question, and not allow my response but, instead, talked over me as I tried to answer. It clutters the mind, especially for someone like me who can respond much better with the written word than a verbal response.

I suspect Joe’s speech issues may have had him in the same spot. You have two minutes to respond – do you rebut the lies or try to explain policy?

Gish gallop. Got it. Thanks, Heather!

See also “Fightin’ Joe Tells Supporters, ‘When You Get Knocked Down, You Get Back Up’ [3]