Bimbo Banter

Formula Questions

  • Trends
  • November 12, 2015
  • by Merrie Spaeth


Tuesday night’s GOP debate showed a number of what we call formula questions. One of these is the “guarantee” question:  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush got two.

First, he was asked, “Can you guarantee that you will have tax reform in your first year?” He didn’t fall into the common trap of saying, “no, I can’t guarantee it,” although that was the meaning of what he said. Later, he was asked, “Can you guarantee there will never be another financial crisis?” And he did fall into the trap, saying “No, I can’t guarantee that.”

The best way to respond to these questions is to understand the power of words and how we hear them. Instead of ignoring the question or saying no, substitute the phrase, “I hope so,” or “I wish I could.” Then repeat the word “guarantee,” but attach it to a topic that the speaker can truthfully defend.

The question stays the same: “Can you guarantee tax reform and cuts in your first year?” but the response is, “I hope so, but what I can guarantee is that every member of Congress will be held accountable….” or whatever topic the speaker wants to introduce. 

Other formula questions are the hypothetical. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, was asked—twice, “If Bank of America were on the brink, would you let it fail?” Sen. Cruz neatly threaded the needle, avoiding a lengthy discussion about bailouts.

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