Falwell's 'Champions for Christ' Debate Coach Schools McCain
During the 2000 presidential campaign, John McCain lumped Jerry Falwell in with the "agents of intolerance." Flash forward eight years and McCain has really changed his tune. So much so that he's using a disciple of the former Agent of Intolerance to prepare him for his first high-stakes presidential debate this Friday against Barack Obama.
McCain's chief debate coach is Brett O'Donnell, who molded Falwell's Liberty University debate team into a powerhouse national champion.
O'Donnell, according to a March 2006 New York Times profile of Liberty's debate team, is "an intensely competitive man." He works "80-hour weeks and spends half of every year away from his wife and two children on the road coaching, scouting and recruiting," the profile reads.
Falwell chose O'Donnell to make his school's debate team the best in the country to produce "champions for Christ." He may not be turning McCain into a champion for Christ, but he will try to create a champion nevertheless, just as he did with President Bush during the 2004 presidential debates.
Here is how O'Donnell described his debate theory in the Times profile:
"The trick is to persuade the audience. It's psychological, and it rests in Aristotle's theory of enthymeme. Aristotle saw that pure logic can't carry a public argument. You need to make the audience go along with you. You do that by leaving out a premise the audience will add itself.
"For example, if you are trying to convince senior citizens to invest in something, you emphasize the stability of the investment. You don't have to convince seniors that stability is in their interest. They already know that. When they connect what you are proposing to what they already know, you have them arguing with you instead of against you. That's what we teach our kids."
One senior McCain campaign insider tells the Sleuth that O'Donnell, 43, spends his down time listening to and critiquing past presidential debates on his iPod as he prepares McCain for this Friday's foreign policy debate against Obama at Ole
It sounds like O'Donnell means business. McCain's rapprochement with Falwell and other religious conservatives in 2006 may have paid off. (We'll see on Friday.)
While O'Donnell works on making McCain a champion debater, others will be role playing to get the Arizona senator fit for the ring. Former Maryland Lt. Gov and one-time Senate candidate Michael Steele, a prominent African-American Republican, will play Obama during practice sessions.
Former Clinton administration lawyer Greg Craig will play McCain for Obama. As the conservative-and-proud-of-it Washington Times points out, Obama "has chosen a famous Washington lawyer who defended the would-be assassin of President Reagan to play Sen. John McCain in preparations."
And while McCain, according to a Wall Street Journal story, plans to hit the hay and take a nap to mentally prepare for the first big showdown, Obama intends to do what he typically does to unwind: hit the basketball court and shoot some hoops.
"That's what he usually does," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton told the Sleuth.
Though it being a full four days out from the debate, Burton couldn't confirm whether hoops will officially be on Obama's schedule Friday.
Mary Ann Akers
September 23, 2008; 7:13 AM ET
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