There has been a rise in the popularity of conservative pundits such as Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens, Ben Shapiro, Tomi Lahren and Kaitlin Bennett in the past few years, especially because of Trump's presidency. They are often praised for how hard they “own the libs” and how they seemingly win every single debate they participate in. However, as some have pointed out, it is becoming increasingly clear that in such “debates,” they don’t actually care about taking in the other person’s point of view and properly refuting it; instead, they rely on interruptions, pointed questions and fast-talking to make their opponent look unprepared. These politicians care about shock factors and making the other person sound morally wrong as opposed to fully explaining their own opinion and relying on actual facts.
Shapiro is the best example of this conservative clownery. Best known for his annoyingly fast and mousy voice as well as the slogan “facts don’t care about your feelings,” there’s really nothing special he is doing besides regurgitating right-wing talking points with a matter-of-fact tone. The best instance of this was last May when Shapiro was talking with conservative journalist Andrew Neil live on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In the video uploaded to Youtube, Shapiro says he tries to provide “an honest take on the day’s issues,” and will “speak out no matter who’s doing the violation [of a principle of his].”
When Neil poses the question of the morality of abortion, Shapiro answers very briefly and without evidence, then flips the conversation by accusing Neil and the BBC of having partisan biases despite their so-called status as “objective, down-the-middle” news. As the video goes on, Shapiro stays the same; giving a brief answer, interrupting, talking fast, acting accusatory and asking aggressive questions to Neil after Shapiro has decided that Neil is obviously partisan and wrong. When Neil begins to ask questions on Shapiro’s book (quoting from it a handful of times), Shapiro shoots him down, claiming Neil is attacking his character and that he clearly has never read the book because he had not been quoting it (despite the fact that Neil actually was, which makes one question if Shapiro even knows himself).
Shapiro lastly calls the interview a “waste of time,” saying he had not even heard of Neil before their discussion (implying Neil is irrelevant) and claiming him to be “badly motivated;” and thus, the interview ended early. This particular clip was interesting because it shows how pundits like Shapiro are received by those who are not American, even if they tend to lean the same way on the political spectrum that Shapiro does. The video went viral when released, and even Shapiro himself agreed he was “destroyed.”
Even if he’s willing to admit it, he still misses the point: He can talk a person’s ear off and still be saying absolutely nothing of substance. He acts overly defensive and deflects everything under the guise of his opponent being dishonest. But does Shapiro not constantly claim he will debate anyone? Why is he always looking to be divisive, even when the other person agrees with him? If anything, it is for clout.
Kirk is a prime example of conservatives framing their poor debate skills as “owning” the other person. Founder of Turning Point USA, Kirk gathers fans by uploading videos of him debating others (mostly college students who are either protesting his presence or asking a question at one of the many events he holds nation-wide on college campuses) with an exaggerated title. They often are in the same format: “Charlie Kirk destroys X,” whether X is “common leftist myth,” “anti-Trump mob,” “college Marxist,” etc. Even though they are obviously ingenuous with their intention, they attract members of the same “silent majority” that elected Trump, as well as young conservatives tired of “political correctness culture.” These videos often garner over 100,000 views and are edited to only show a certain bit of the conversation so as to make Kirk seem correct.
When Kirk was invited to campus last semester by the University of Connecticut TPUSA chapter, he sat outside the library before his scheduled event and debated students, mainly over issues in the Middle East. As someone who was there for over an hour, it was clear he was just trying to get a rise out of people — there were about three cameras pointed at students’ faces, and Kirk sat in front of a sign that said something along the lines of “Long live Israel. Prove me wrong.” There are four or so videos of his encounters with students (I star in one of them myself) that show how he acts just like Shapiro: He talks fast, he interrupts, he makes assumptions and he holds a smug attitude because he knows he can “out-debate” anyone, especially college kids.
People fail to recognize that Kirk’s job (or lack thereof, I’m not sure what he does at all) plays a significant role in his ownership of the libs; Kirk makes money off of debating people on these issues, so of course, he is well-versed in the facts and has plenty of experience debating others. College students are not like Kirk—they’re younger, and they have a life outside of political “gotcha” moments; so obviously it will come off as if Kirk is superior, regardless of what the student will say, because Kirk knows how to mock his opponent for not being prepared or providing every minute detail that supports their argument. Even though Kirk has never been to college and has never held a real, hard job in his life, he is able to play off this inexperience by calling himself more educated because he knows every little thing.
I’m not saying that left or liberal pundits don’t do the same as Kirk or Shapiro, but there’s a noticeable difference in the way that Kirk and Shapiro are trying to make a spectacle of every conversation they dishonestly engage in. When you debate them, they know they have already won. When you refuse to debate them because of their bad intentions, they still play it off as a win, calling you scared or misinformed. The presence of Kirk, Shapiro and others online is not going to go away any time soon, and neither will their influence on young conservatives or mass shooters. The best thing to do is to ignore them and others like them. Why respond when that is what they are trying to get you to do? The left needs to realize that people with such intentions are never worth your time. Do not acknowledge them and don’t engage with them — because any kind of press, no matter how negative, is good press in someone else’s eyes.
Liz Collins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.