When it comes to debate techniques to win debates no matter what, Ben Shapiro is a great guy to learn from.
Shapiro is the most successful and ruthless political debater in the English-speaking world.
But as a good connoisseur of power dynamics, Shapiro sometimes deploys aggressive strategies and techniques that might be “unethical” or “manipulative“.
This article will show you all the techniques Ben Shapiro uses to dominate his debates.
- #1. Get Under Your Opponent’s Skin
- #2. Strike When They Overreact (ie.: Gaslighting)
- #3. Con With The Confidence Game: Talk Like You’re Gospel
- #4. Ridicule Your Opponent
- #5. Use (Or bend) Science to Inflate Your Authority
- #6. Play The Victim to Hide Your Aggression
- #7. Hide Your True Power Source
- #8. Beat Them to The Punch: Accuse Them of Manipulativeness
- #9. Frame The Interaction (the way it serves you)
- #10. End With An Olive Branch After You’ve Taken Their Scalp (so you even look “nice”)
- Ben Shapiro Personality Traits
- Ben Shapiro’s Debating Fundamentals
- What I Think of Ben Shapiro
#1. Get Under Your Opponent’s Skin
One of the major reasons why Ben Shapiro dominates all the debates is that he’s the best I have ever seen at getting under his opponents’ skin.
This is something of the things he’s done, said, or heavily implied to get under people’s skin:
- “you’ve been standing on the graves of dead children”
- “you’re not a real woman” (to a trans)
- “I feel terrible for you” (to a trans)
- “why are you mainstreaming delusion” (to a full panel of journalists)
Getting under his opponents’ skin is a technique Ben Shapiro uses consciously.
And I know that because he bragged about to a room of his supporters.
#2. Strike When They Overreact (ie.: Gaslighting)
This is how Shapiro deploys gaslighting:
- Manipulate the victim into overreacting (“getting under their skin”)
- Remain calm as they overreact
- Point out to the victim that they are overreacting and/or acting crazy and aggressive
The victim, looking at the calm and composed aggressor, often draws the conclusion that they are indeed acting too wild and over the top. And, often, they end up believing their aggressor and feeling crazy.
When Ben Shapiro makes his victim act aggressively, he makes it a point to highlight while he acts calm and rational.
That way, it looks like he is winning the debate thanks to his arguments, and not thanks to his emotional manipulation.
Ben Shapiro is an intelligent man and a highly skilled political debater.
Yet I’d go as far as to say that most of Ben Shapiro’s claim to notoriety is bad on him gaslighting his opponents (ie.: making them overreact and aggress him and then taking advantage of it).
Why Shapiro Does Not Say His Opponents Are Acting Crazy
When transgender Zoey Tur threatened to physically assault Shapiro, Shapiro could have claimed that threats of violence have no place in a debate.
And he could have made the case that everyone in the studio was supporting violence by not openly condemning Zoey Tur (and it would have been a good point, BTW).
However, he decided not to.
Because from a persuasion point of view it’s much better if people realize by themselves that people are being aggressive towards Shapiro while he simply makes his case calmly and rationally.
That way, people are actually siding with Shapiro by their own volition rather than because Ben complained or asked to do so.
And that’s much more persuasive.
#3. Con With The Confidence Game: Talk Like You’re Gospel
Ben Shapiro talks with an unwavering belief in his values and he talks like he’s speaking unquestionable truths.
That attitude helps Shapiro browbeat his adversaries and it makes him wield outsized power and influence.
Talking with unwavering confidence like you’re delivering scripture works very well both in destroying his debating opponents and in galvanizing his followers’ base.
Most people indeed have an inborn tendency to follow the charismatic leader.
This is a terrible human bias because it actually helps dictators, psychopaths, and snake oil salesmen alike to build a huge following.
But alas, it’s there and it’s real so you better take it into account.
When People Quit Debating Shapiro
Ben Shapiro is so good at conveying power and authority that sometimes his least skilled debating opponents simply give up.
They quit trying to debate him or start asking him questions instead of confronting him.
That’s the hallmark of a powerful debater.
When people stop debating you they are recognizing your superiority. And when they ask you questions they are basically saying “you know more, you are the real leader, know let me learn from you”
#4. Ridicule Your Opponent
Ben Shapiro is a ruthless debater.
And one way he dominates debates is by intellectually destroying his opponent.
He does in all the ways he can.
But one of his favorites and one of the nastiest power moves he deploys is by implying, or sometimes directly stating, that his opponent is an idiot.
He does it with smirks, witty remarks, voice tonality, eye-rolling, and other indicators of contempt.
Contempt also contributes to Shapiro’s gaslighting effect.
Shapiro’s “know it all” attitude is typical of the “smart alec” dominant archetype that we analyzed in “The 7 Archetypes of Dominance“.
Note how he also leverages the “podium” and “speaker” position of power by getting the audience to laugh along with him (learn here how to speak with power).
That’s similar to Obama’s social-climbing BTW.
#5. Use (Or bend) Science to Inflate Your Authority
We live in a society that, righteously, celebrates science, data, and statistics.
People who drop quotes, names, data, statistics and studies, sound well-informed, intelligent, and… “right”.
After all, you can’t argue with data, can you?
Ben Shapiro loves to drop a copious amount of statistics that make him sound like the ultimate authority on whatever he’s discussing.
As per ThePowerMoves dictionary of power, this is a form of “power borrowing”. Such as, you quote, cite, or align yourself with high-authority sources to borrow their power, and use it for your own -sometimes selfish- ends.
That’s all cool and dandy, until… Until someone starts using science not to find the truth, but to impose their version of the truth.
And science, data and statics, albeit technically objective, can be manipulated to say almost anything you want to say (Darrell Huff, 1954).
And the most manipulative players can simply misquote a study, or make stuff up.
And I’m afraid Shapiro has done that, too.
And since few people even check whether what you’re saying is based on good data or not, chances are you can “win” your little battle, without your reputation ever being tarnished.
Example of Bending Researches
Shapiro doesn’t want to call transexuals “she”.
And to defend a position that might seem just outright mean, he says that research showed that the suicide rate among transexuals is the same whether people recognize them for their preferred gender or not.
For anyone familiar with basic psychology and sociology, this seems very strange.
It certainly did seem so to me when I fear heard it.
After all, being recognized or ostracized by the people around has a huge impact on people.
So I looked up the research.
Turns out, it was pretty much as I expected it would turn up and pretty much saying the opposite of what Shapiro stated.
Respondents who experienced rejection by family and friends, discrimination, victimization, or violence had elevated prevalence of suicide attempts
Now, based on that, what do you think forcing a “he” does to a trans who wants to become a “she”? Might that qualify as a rejection for her?
I definitely think so.
And this is what another research says:
Social support, reduced transphobia, and having any personal identification documents changed to an appropriate sex designation were associated with large relative and absolute reductions in suicide risk
Interventions to increase social inclusion and access to medical transition, and to reduce transphobia, have the potential to contribute to substantial reductions in the extremely high prevalences of suicide ideation
Basically: don’t listen to what Shapiro says about transexuals.
Frankly, I found his position unnededly mean, and it only increases the level of pain and hurt in this world.
#6. Play The Victim to Hide Your Aggression
There is a strange tendency among human beings.
And that tendency is to think that if one has been victimized he can hardly be a victimizer himself.
Funny, because that’s actually the opposite of how it goes (Glasser, 2001).
So what Shapiro conveniently says is that he is against abuse and bullying because he’s been the victim of vicious bullying as a kid.
That helps him deflect a lot of bullying accusations and, when he’s accused of bullying, it gives him an easier way out.
It’s a bit like the abusing partner who says to his wife when she accuses him of being emotionally abusive:
Him: How can you say that to me, you know what my father did me!!
Ben Shapiro’s Next Level Victim Power Move
And you can’t dominate debates as the weaker party of the interaction.
But of course, Ben Shapiro is too smart to fall into that trap, and he finds indeed a strong, powerful way of presenting himself as a victim.
Basically, it sounds a bit like this: “I’m ready to debate fair and square with anyone… But they prefer to shut me off, protest me and aggress me instead of debating”.
That way he sounds intellectually superior to his opponents while still painting himself as the victim of abuse.
It makes him look like a 21st century Robin Hood.
#7. Hide Your True Power Source
In “The 48 Laws of Power” Robert Greene says you should play a sucker to catch a sucker.
Indeed, it’s often best to hide your true power, as well as the source of that power.
When people are confused as to what your real sources of power are, they can’t easily attack them.
And when they are not sure as to what actually makes you powerful, they can’t easily copy your debating techniques.
As we have seen Ben Shapiro’s debating techniques often resort to emotional manipulation, aggression, covert aggression, and bullying.
Yet he loves to paint himself as a “small Jewish guy who’s been viciously bullied”.
So on top of former bullying, Shapiro self-frames himself as “small and harmless”.
With that frame, people are less likely to correctly identify one of Shapiro’s biggest power tools: his aggression, his high-dominance, and his frequent “frame-imposing” strategies.
#8. Beat Them to The Punch: Accuse Them of Manipulativeness
This is another common technique of abusive men (Bancroft, 2002).
It consists of “beating your opponent to the punch” and accusing him of using your own manipulative technique.
So for example, let’s imagine you are verbally bullying someone. What you would do then is to accuse your opponent of being a verbal bully.
When you do it:
- You get under his skin and he will most likely overreact
- He loses his plot, stumbles, potentially gets angry, most likely defends. Often, he will counter-accuse you of being a bully, but now that you said it first, it looks like he’s following your lead, reacting to your leadership, and generally losing the argument
- People side with you, since people tend to believe the higher-power accuser more than the one who defends -they unconsciously think “why would he have to defend, if he’s not guilty”?-
As a matter of fact, the more he overreacts and attacks back, the more he will look like a bully, and the more likely you are of winning the debate.
This is also a technique that Donal Trump used quite often.
- Trump debating technique
- Win a debate like Donal Trump
- Win Bigly (analysis of Trump’s persuasion techniques)
#9. Frame The Interaction (the way it serves you)
Whoever gets to frame the interaction holds a huge advantage in debates.
For example, someone might pose you a question and frame it in a way that presupposes you did say something or that you agree with something.
If you’re not aware of the frame and you answer the question, you end up accepting that presupposition.
Or as you speak someone might reframe the conversation to better suit his political agenda.
For example, a frame to support capital punishment might be “what we’re really talking about here is about proper punishment for the most heinous crimes like torture, pedophilia and mass murders”.
Ben Shapiro is very good at framing the conversation in a way that supports his own views.
Ben Shapiro: A boy who thinks he’s a girl, that’s the use phraseology I use (…) which his technically what we’re talking about here (frames the dynamics as a boy thinking he’s a girl, rather than feeling, or being)
As far as the actual psychological issues at play… (frames it as an issue)
Ben Shapiro frames the conversation around gender dysphoria in the way that serves him best:
- Thinking VS being: the boy thinks he’s a girl. That frame implies the boy IS a boy, but mistakenly thinks he’s a girl
- Psychological issue: frames the conversation any conservative wants it to be framed: you’re the gender you’re born with, you can’t change it. And if you want otherwise, you got psychological issues that must be address mentally, not with an operation
This also makes Shapiro looking smart, erudite, and powerful vis-a-vis the student he’s debating.
His reply implies the student is rambling on and babbling, while he is the intelligent one who brings the conversation towards its central -and correct- proposition.
George Lakoff also addresses framing from a conservative VS liberal point of view in “Don’t Think of An Elephant“.
#10. End With An Olive Branch After You’ve Taken Their Scalp (so you even look “nice”)
People remember mostly how things begin and how they end (Elliot Aronson, 2011).
This is much needed to an aggressive debater like Ben Shapiro, because if all he did was to aggress and deride, then people would leave with a rather bad impression of him.
Instead, I have noticed he often ends with a more conciliatory tone. That allows him to take rather extremist positions but still makes it seem like he’s quite open.
But mostly, it allows him to act like a bully, tear his opponents to pieces, and then end with a more respectful, conciliatory, and high-warmth tone to look magnanimous.
His opponents, browbeaten during the whole argument, are sometimes more than happy to take that olive branch to save (some) face.
So he ends with another leadership move: he offers the olive branch, and others follow him -and if they don’t follow him now, they look like butthurt losers-.
To people looking from the outside, it looks like Shapiro destroys his opponents with hard facts, data, and solid logic.
And then, he gets to seem nice and “superior” to personal squabbles to end in friendship.
It’s the negotiation ideal of “be hard on problems and soft on people” (Fisher and Ury, 1981).
Except, he’s not really that fair with the arguments, and neither that kind with the people.
But it’s great for his public image: AFTER he did everything he could to shame and ridicule his opponents, he looks sensible and magnanimous to befriend them.
Ben Shapiro Personality Traits
Researching Ben Shapiro I have realized that is possibly the most ruthlessly effective debate I have seen so far.
Here are some of Ben Shapiro’s superpowers:
- Icey cold under stress (the way he remained cool in front of the physical threat was nothing short of astonishing)
- Does not take things personally (also read: Ego Is The Enemy, The Antifragile Ego)
- Quick-witted (he owes his notoriety and skills to his quick-wit as well)
Ben Shapiro’s Debating Fundamentals
Ben Shapiro uses plenty of power moves and unfair debating techniques, but don’t get me wrong: he is also skilled with the basics.
- He embodies his values by living them, which gives him huge credibility
- Knows his topics really well
- Researches before going into a debate
- High degree of mastery in the English language
- Separates himself from his arguments (this allows him to take strong criticism without taking it personally)
What I Think of Ben Shapiro
This was a rather critical analysis of Ben Shapiro debating skills and personality.
It may come as a surprise then that it’s not meant as an attack against Shapiro.
I these examples, I disagree with his stance on transexuals and on his insistence on calling them by their biological pronoun.
That’s really unhelpful and only adds to this world’s misery. And if there is one thing we should all strive for is in reducing misery and increasing people’s well-being.
And in general, I find him a bit too self-righteous, close-minded to different ideas and approaches, and derisive of others.
His approach to fame is obviously not to find bridges and solutions, but to create echo chambers, “us VS them” dynamics, and then throw some bones to the turkeys with his self-righteous outraged tirades.
But I do very much enjoy and, at times, even agree with some of his video commentaries.
Especially the ones which lay bare the hypocrisy of certain people, awards, ceremonies, and news cycles.
His criticism of Oprah Winfrey’s speech is spot on, for example.
And the column he’s got where he publicly airs his dirty laundry and past mistakes, which is pretty cool (and something I’m thinking to have as well).
Here is the truth:
If you want to win debates, then you need to master the dark side of the debate techniques.
Ben Shapiro is one of the most successful political debaters around, and there is much to learn from him.
His debating dominance though does not only rely on facts and skills but also resorts to manipulation and bullying.
My personal invite to you is to build bridges, rather than “dominating” the opponent.
But with this article, you will know how to defend yourself against Shapiro-like debaters.