This is an excerpt from the new book Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again
How many times have you watched the presidential debates in the post-Reagan years with your hands half-covering your eyes, just dreading that moment when that gotcha question comes “our guy’s” way?
You can almost sense it coming too, can’t you? Just when “our guy” seems to have the momentum and a head of steam, you know the liberal media member pretending to be an impartial moderator is going to drop the proverbial hammer right on our heads.
Come on, I can’t be the only grassroots conservative out there who has experienced this level of angst watching these things? Be honest with me now. Don’t leave me hanging. That’s what I thought.
I mean, heaven forbid our Republican “champion” actually has the worldview and shrewd communication skills to turn the question to his advantage. I mean, we’re only running for the highest offices in the land here, so it’s not like we should expect the best of the best to represent us or anything.
We’ve already written about not accepting the premise of your opponent, but the next step to winning requires borrowing a technique from the martial arts—using your opponent’s strength against him. In political combat we do that by first rejecting your opponent’s premise, and then we reverse his premise and use it against him.
Or, as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet, to “hoist him from his own petard.”
Reagan was a Jedi Master of this technique, and here are just a couple of many famous examples.
During a 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale, Reagan responded to mounting criticism he was too old to be president by promising he would not “make his opponent’s youth and inexperience an issue in this campaign.”
That snarky retort even drew a laugh from Mondale himself.
At a press conference during his first term, ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson asked Reagan if all the blame for the recession at the time rested with the Democrat-controlled Congress. “Mr. President, does any of the blame belong to you,” Donaldson asked Reagan.
Without skipping a beat, Reagan winsomely replied, “Yes, because for many years I was a Democrat.”