Cross X Series #4: Keys to Undermining your Opponent’s Case by: Samuel Hand

CX designed to undermine your opponent’s case is a lot like CX designed to support your case, with two key differences: you don’t know what your opponent is running ahead of time, and the questions aren’t written beforehand (usually). Judging from these differences, you may think that you’re doomed to wait until you hear your opponent’s case and then pray you come up with something intelligent to ask… let me discourage this thinking. While you can have strokes of brilliance in the moment, just ​thinking​ a bit about the resolution can give an idea of what you might want to ask.

Much like I can’t tell you what questions to ask to support your debate cases specifically, I can’t know what your opponents are going to run. However, I can give you the keys (learned over the course of several years) to attacking your opponent’s case in CX.

Key #1:​ Look to break links. A good debate case is well-linked — if not expressly syllogistic, at least implicitly. One idea should flow smoothly into the next. Cross-examination is a chance to break these links. There are three key kinds of links you should be aware of and seek to separate when they’re attached to important arguments in the round.

  1. (A)  Argument-case link. As the name implies, this represents a particular argument’s place within the overall structure of the case. Typically, this will be something like a resolutional analysis, though contentions are sometimes subject to this type of linkage. Generally, breaking this link will significantly and self-apparently weaken the case. Taking out your opponent’s resolutional analysis has obvious ramifications. Another good example is the case-value-criterion set of links — I’ve had great success separating opponents’ criteria from their values and putting mine into their places.
  2. (B)  Argument-argument link. These links go back to the syllogistic structure of a case. If a case has three contentions, chances are the second contention links the first and third. Breaking the links between any two contentions, therefore, takes apart the syllogism. CX allows you the questions you need to effectively argue those points in rebuttal.
  3. (C)  Argument-illustration link. A common (and commendable) method of debaters is to use the most impactful examples they can find, and this can sometimes make rather simple arguments seem insurmountable. The key, then, is to separate illustrations (analogies, historical examples, hard evidence, whatever) from arguments. Many powerful-example-centric arguments are actually predicated on the examples themselves, meaning that in separating the two, you actually take out two individual points at once.

Key #2:​ Push them, but not too far. This was once explained to me using a cliff as an analogy: you want to push your opponent to the edge of the cliff, but not over the edge. There are a couple reasons for this, namely that CX doesn’t actually “count” on the flow. Cross-ex isn’t for making arguments — it’s for setting them up for delivery in speeches. I have seen debaters lose because they made a superb point… but in CX. I’ve been one of those debaters. Further, a man pushed over a cliff will try to claw back up for all he’s worth. If you push your opponent to the edge skillfully, chances are he won’t even realize the cliff is there, but if you push him over, your CX will become messy.

What, exactly, is the cliff? That’s the breaking point in their case. Get your opponent to admit everything you need them to in order to succinctly point out the flaw (in rebuttal), but don’t ask them to agree to the flaw in CX. Any debater will start backpedaling at this point.

Key #3:​ Know your stuff. I know, this sounds obvious, but I mean it very literally. Know ​your​ stuff. More in LD than TP, but certainly in both formats, arguments tend to become popular and circulate. Know the resolution and analyze it thoroughly: if you weren’t running the cases you’re running, what might you run? What questions would you ask of your own case, your own evidence? What arguments are​ you and your friends running? Such queries, while they cannot be comprehensive, provide a bank of potential questions on the mental wavelength your opponent will probably occupy.

If you haven’t noticed, undermining your opponent’s case in CX comes down to being prepared — not prepared ​with things to say​, but prepared ​to say things​. Though those sound nearly identical, there’s a difference. CX geared towards your opponent’s case is dependent on background knowledge and a general level of preparation that probably won’t be specific to any one opponent. So, know your stuff, push on the links in your opponent’s case, but don’t push too far. Take your opponent to the edge of the cliff and then blow their case wide open in rebuttal. Oh, and have fun. CX is fantastic!