Let’s You and Him Fight: Thoughts on Trump’s Debate Game-playing

Since the first Biden-Trump debate on June 27, 2024, I’ve been churning and even losing sleep as I hear the arguments over whether or not to keep Biden on the ticket. Is he too old? Did his debate performance indicate cognitive decline? Some argue for an open convention to choose another candidate. Others argue that we must stick by Biden if we have any hope of defeating Trump. Widespread panic and chaos has become the norm.

Biden, to his credit, consulted his physician after the debate and received a clean bill of health. He has shown strength and passion in subsequent public appearances.

Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet while Biden is meeting with Governors and making public speeches to reassure his supporters that he’s up to the task.

I submit that Trump is winning the game of “Let’s You and Him Fight.” Forty years ago, Eric Berne in Games People Play described this game as a woman getting two men to fight over her. In one version, she has already chosen another man, unbeknownst to the two suitors, and gets them to fight over her to distract them. I translate it into the current situation in this way: the prize is the election. Trump has gotten the democrats to fight amongst themselves to distract them while he heads towards a November election victory. I like Heather Cox Richardson’s description of the “Gish Gallop” as described in her Letters from an American of June 27, 2024.

To quote her: “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.”

The result was to stir up conflict within the democrats between Biden supporters and those who have long been lukewarm about his candidacy. In my opinion, it’s a perfect example of Let’s you and him fight. I imagine Trump sitting back chuckling. If the democrats continue to argue rather than focus on defeating Trump, precious energy is wasted and Trump’s chance of winning increases.

When democrats engage in internal conflict, we know it stands in the way of winning elections. Such internal conflict had a role in Richard Nixon beating Hubert Humphrey in 1968. In that year, LBJ dropped out of the election in March, Bobby Kennedy surged ahead, winning the California primary and then falling to assassination in June. When the democratic convention met in August, a new candidate had to be chosen. After much chaos, Hubert Humphrey, who had not run in any primary, became the candidate. He barely had time to set up a campaign organization, raise funds, and let people know him. He lost to Nixon by 1%. It was the first election I was old enough to vote in; having my candidate lose by such a narrow margin was heartbreaking. And we all know what happened next.

There seems to be wide agreement that our very democracy is at stake in this election. If Trump is reelected, he intends to destroy what our Founders created. But he’s not working alone. Some Republicans led by Kevin Roberts of the Heritage Foundation intend to implement Project 2025 if they get power. The country we love, the rights we’ve assumed would be here forever, will all be gone.

Let’s recognize the game Trump is playing that Eric Berne told us about long ago and not let him win it or win the election. Remember the old saying, “The people united cannot be defeated.”


  1. Linda A Marshall on July 6, 2024 at 11:47 am

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strong Men, is an American historian specializing in fascism and authoritarian leaders. She appeared on Nicolle Wallace’s MSNBC show on June 28 following David Jolly and Tim Miller, politicians who focused entirely on Biden’s age and his debate performance. Ben-Ghiat pointed out that the Biden campaign is using normal strategies during abnormal times. She said we need a paradigm shift, pointing out that mistakes were made in planning the debate. No matter who was “debating,” they would not have been able to “debate” with an authoritarian. Authoritarian’s goals are to indoctrinate, not educate.

    I have tried to get this message as well as the one about the Gish Gallop to Biden’s campaign strategists. It’s very hard to find emails and telephone numbers. Based on the George Stephanopoulos interview last night, it doesn’t appear Biden has received the message. It was much more than a “bad night” for him. I agree with you, it’s a DJT strategy.

    If you or anyone who reads your blog knows some way to get the message to Biden’s strategists, please make the effort!

    Thanks for you post. I totally agree.

  2. Bob Hunt on July 6, 2024 at 4:48 pm

    As they say down here in SW Virginia, your Post is a Ten Strike!
    It shines a bright light on Trump’s evil debate tactics and gives us Biden
    supporters additional rationale for holding firm and fighting for Joe’s reelection.
    Instead of a nomination fight, we need to spend our time before the election teaching and educating our fellow citizens about the terrible, deadly threat that another Donald Trump presidency is to the continued existence of our constitutional democracy.

  3. Wendy Michener on July 8, 2024 at 6:07 pm

    I agree with both of you. Chuck Fager has a similar take on A Friendly Letter.

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