To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact



David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 17:32 min

Using examples from historic debates, David and Karl break down the tactics candidates can use to effectively win a debate.

David Axelrod and Karl Rove
Teach Campaign Strategy and Messaging
Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.


Debates play a different role in different elections, and presidential debates that are major events that take place in the fall, they're one of the fixed pieces in a presidential race that have some potential impact, and the preparations that go into those debates are enormous. But at every level, debates can be important, and you have to prepare for them, you have to think them through, you have to be strategically rigorous about the argument, you want to make the argument your opponent wants to make, and above all, you have to recognize that most people aren't going to necessarily see the whole debate. So you want to make sure that you have your moments in that debate that really define your message. You're a champion debater. - Well, I think it's important to remember that you're in a debate, but this is not like a high school or a college debate. - Right. - There's not somebody in the back scoring you on points and so forth. It's voters looking at you trying to figure out who you are and whether or not they think you've got what it takes. - Right. - It's a performance. - It's a performance. But it's a performance with a lot of substance to it because they want to hear what it is that you want to do. They're not interested, necessarily, in the snappy response or the towel snapping that goes on in a lot of debates, though that could help them understand who you are if you make-- - Yeah, if you're peevish. - Yeah. If you're Al Gore and it's 2000 and you walk up and try to intimidate the governor of the state of Texas and he turns around at you and has a funny smile on his face and nods his head towards you and goes back to what he's doing, you've lost without saying a word. - It's not only what's your philosophy and what's your position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can. - But what-- - Or if you're George H.W. Bush and you look at your watch during a town hall meeting when you've got a group of citizens sitting in front of you. - People will say-- so particularly in races for the State House and State Senate and Congress, you're going to do what will seem to be an infinite number of joint appearances, which are really debates. - Right. - And what people have got to be focused on is, what is the message they want to convey, and what is the physical presence they want people to see? And so it really is psyching yourself up to be confident, to be even tempered, to be focused on the message of the evening, to show some personality and some good humor, not to look uptight or peevish, but it's to communicate your message. - Right. We both had the experience of incumbent presidents in debates. We had a very famous setback at the 2012-- the first debate in Denver with Mitt Romney, because presidents aren't used to having someone in their grill. They're apt to be defensive. They're apt to be overprepared. And ultimately, we had to have a discussion that this is not...

What it takes to win elections

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I liked seeing these two experienced political advisers from opposing sides speak respectfully with each other despite having very different views. We need more of that these days.

I loved hearing all the behind the scenes stories about campaigns and all the detail these two shared on strategy

Really love the insightful details, and all-in-all objective mindset of both David Axelrod and Karl Rove.

Fantastic adventure into the politic's world. Many advice will be useful for me as an engaged citizen, or in my next projects in my business.


Catherine T.

That footage of Mondale laughing at Reagan's joke is so great. It was a great deadpan zinger (tame by today's standards I guess) but I just kind of miss that civility. Our debates now are hostile screaming matches.

Emil B.

I wonder if bayonets and horses remark in 2012 debates was prepared in advance. I thought it sealed it for Obama and it sounded way too good to be off the cuff.

Vickie R.

PS I can also speak several foreign languages (not all fluently). German, Arabic, Korean and YES even English, the hardest language of all!!! Call me and I will come!!!!

Vickie R.

I always wanted to help someone running for office because I love doing public relations, I've had many years of PR experience living here in HOllywood. ALso worked temp. at Rogers and Cowan public relations under a famous PR lady named Ronnie, who later died in a car accident. I also helped rep Kirsty Alley and Roseanna Barr, again many years ago. I like Trump's humor and how he always has to get the last word in a fight. I could sit in my Valley cave all day long watching Trump yell and scare all these other people. I wouldn't mind volunteering for Prez Trump, but how do you do it when living in Los Angeles? This isn't exactly Trump territory. I've had lots of experience dealing with international diplomats as well: Saudi Arabia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, South Korea and on and on. I think volunteering for a campaign would be great experience for me

A fellow student

I'm sorry but "laughing boy" Biden did not stay on message and I can hear his constant fake laugh to this day. I do enjoy the challenge of the debates.