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October 7, 2020 / Memos

Decoding the Right: Strategies for Tonight’s VP Debate


To: Interested Parties
From: NARAL Opposition Research 
Date: October 7, 2020 

NARAL’s research team was built to analyze the Radical Right’s tactics and call out their traps. Here’s what we expect to see in tonight’s debate and what you can do about it. 

AT-A-GLANCE…

THEIR STRATEGY: Tonight, look for Pence & other GOP surrogates to rely on false claims and disinformation in an effort to deflect from their failures and put Democrats on the defensive. 

OUR RESPONSE: Turn the tables, call out their lies, and use questions to expose how their disinformation harms public health and our democracy.  

THE TACTIC: In tonight’s debate, expect Pence to distract from the ongoing chaos in the White House by using disinformation, deflecting all scrutiny of the GOP position, and invoking religion as a fig leaf for oppression. Here are his mostly likely attacks: 

  • Pot/Kettle: The Trump administration’s obvious extremism is on trial in this election. They can’t escape that so they try to deflect by calling Democrats the realextremists”—on reproductive freedom, economic policy, healthcare, immigration, and more, despite the fact that the positions of the Democratic ticket are mainstream positions that enjoy popular support from most Americans. 
  • Conversation stopper: People of all faiths support Democrats and Democratic positions. Yet, Republicans have invoked faith as a means of silencing conversation around their controversial positions. Pence and his allies will try to get Democrats to cede ground with false claims that 1) efforts to fight discrimination amount to an attack on “religious liberty” (a phrase the GOP originally developed to defend segregationist policies), or 2) that any opposition to Amy Coney Barrett’s SCOTUS nomination is “anti-Catholic bigotry” (ignoring that Vice President Biden is himself a Catholic). 
  • Elephant in the room: The Trump administration’s catastrophic COVID-19 response is top of mind for voters. Pence knows this, so will counter with outrageous accusations that Democrats are spreading fear about the ongoing pandemic (rather than acknowledge the very real threat or propose any solutions).

We all know that when the Trump administration is feeling weak or threatened, they look for any pivot that lets them stay on offense and control the narrative. Trump’s own style makes the tactic obvious, but for decades, the GOP’s core political strategy has focused on avoiding scrutiny by staying on offense against Democrats. (See our book for more.) Pence’s tone may be relatively measured (compared to his boss), but his strategy is the same. The good news is, this approach crumbles under pressure. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO: USE your platform to expose these strategies, call out disinformation, and interrogate the GOP record.  

Here’s how: 

  1. In any conversations with Trump/Pence surrogates, be the one asking questions
  2. Call out their attempts to pivot & make their deflection strategy obvious to anyone watching. 
  3. When they dodge again, double down with probing questions

WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE? 

If they want to talk about COVID-19: What impact is the administration’s negligence having on the American people? In his leading role on the COVID-19 task force, how is Pence taking responsibility for the lives lost? What is the administration doing to contain its own outbreak? Why have the voices of experts been suppressed? 

If they want to talk about the economy: What have they actually done for the workers who are struggling amidst a historic economic collapse? What support are they offering to their own White House staff who are now affected by COVID-19?

If they want to talk about abortion: What’s the world they’re actually working towards and how would that affect pregnant people’s lives and health? If they succeed in banning abortion, how would that be enforced? What role would law enforcement play? 

For more information, see our research on how to turn the tables and put Republicans on defense: 

Everyone should be able to decide if, when, how, and with whom they start or grow a family.

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