The “battle” will be joined again. Tonight eleven Republican candidates will face off in Ronald Reagan presidential library in the Air Force One Pavilion on a stage in built to show the former president’s airplane in the background. Before the main contest four other candidates will battle in the “happy hour” debate.The main debate will be an interesting contest, Jake Tapper (a personal favorite) will moderate and will be joined by CNN’s Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt the best radio interviewer in the business. Look for all three to follow up their questions, demanding answers, fend off the inevitable Trump whining about unfair questioning, and try and make the candidates confront each other. But keep in mind all three of them are professionals, they will do their best NOT to become part of the story, but to keep the attention on the candidates. Warning to Donald Trump, know something about Ohio-class submarines. It’s one question that Hewitt has asked pretty much every candidate except for you. Everyone else has had an answer.With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, all candidates will be going after Donald Trump, who has been growing constantly since the August 6 Fox News debate. Cruz has avoided going after Trump with the hopes that as an outsider he will get the leader’s votes when he starts to fall. But he hasn’t begun to fall yet, so will this the time for Cruz to go on the attack? Probably not.
Look for Carly Florina to go after the Donald also, It will be interesting to see if she will be able to do as good of a job as she did in the Happy Hour debate last time. The Prediction here is that she will. Florina is in a unique position, because of her gender she is most able to attack Hillary Clinton. She is also the only GOP candidate who got Trump to walk back a charge. He didn’t apologize after the “look at he face claim,” but he did try too get everyone to believe he wasn’t talking about her looks. Carly is good at making digging attacks without making it look like an attack. If she goes after the GOP leader Trump, while maintaining her “classy” posture she may be the first candidate to put a dent into “the Donald’s poll numbers.
Dr. Ben Carson has been the biggest surprise over the past few weeks. His debate performance last time was “meh” until he cracked a joke during his closing statement. He’s made a point to do a lot of national media interviews in the past month and it has helped him immensely. Growing twelve percentage points in the RCP average. Two things to watch about Carson tonight. Will the ultimate “nice guy” be able to attack Trump? And as the new #2 in the polls will the other candidates go after him? The prediction here is no on the first and yes on the second. Carson is a very bright man and a quick learner, but he will need to exhibit some cajones tonight or he may fall back quickly.
To many Jeb Bush is supposed to be the leading candidate as he is the favorite of the GOP establishment and has tons of cash. However in a year where voters are revolting against the status quo, Jeb is going to have to have a great debate, not just his answers but he need to show voters that he is not just than “more of the same.” Look for Bush to go after Trump hard. But its hard to see a scenario where he comes out of tonight’s debate picking up support. It’s hard for him to get beyond his last name.
Kasich is a conundrum. Despite the fact that he was a congressman and governor (with a stint at Fox in-between) Kasich is considered an outsider. Like Trump he is a man who doesn’t hold back his criticism (although he does it in a much classier way). Despite the fact that he doesn’t always follow the pure conservative position, the Ohio governor is a conservative. The question is will he be hit with his breaks from orthodoxy or will that wait until (if) he rises in the polls. Kasich had a good debate in August, and may shine again tonight.
Governor Walker did a stint as leading in the early primaries, but his initial weeks as a candidate were filled with gaffes and his in-artful campaigning since has driven his numbers into the low single digits, if Walker doesn’t stand out at the CNN debate his money may start to dry up. Walker has recently gone after Trump hard, but few have noticed.
A year and a half ago, Chris Christie was the hands-on choice to be the establishment candidate for the GOP nomination. That was before “bridgegate.” Even though he has been totally absolved from the scandal he has never recovered. Christie’s thing was always “straight-talk,” but Trump has that position. Christie is another candidate who may find himself running out of funds very quickly if he does not pick up lots of support after today.
Marco…what ever happened to Marco? With no visible gaffes no one can figure out why the young conservative who is a brilliant orator has gained little ground since the last debate, and has dropped since he entered the race. After tonight it may be time for Marco to switch his efforts to a reelection to the senate campaign. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but it looks like his chances for the nomination are diminishing and it would be a tragedy for him to be out of national politics after 2016.
The moment Obama started screwing up the fight against ISIS, and started pushing the Iran deal, Rand Paul’s fortunes began to fall drastically. His foreign policy ideas just don’t work in this environment of terrorist fears. He will always have the die-hard libertarians, but the broader appeal he showed a year ago has all but dissipated. It is hard to believe that his performance tonight will change, even if he has another battle with the NJ Gov. like last time.
Huckabee is a decent man but he has the same problem as Santorum. He did well in 2008 because he was the last guy left not named McCain, just like Santorum was the last non-Romney standing. Huckabee seems like his only issues surround social conservatism, but most of the competition is also pro-life and support traditional marriage. These issues will not win him the nomination.
The happy hour under-card will feature fewer candidates than a month ago, Carly Fiorina was promoted to the main stage, Rick Perry dropped out of the race, and Jim Gilmore didn’t receive the 1% minimum to qualify to make this sub contest.
The Fox version of the Happy Hour contest was actually an interesting debate especially because of Carly Fiorina’s strong performance. While this happy hour debate will give these four candidates much more time to shine because each will have much more time, look for this one to be a real sleeper. Former Penn. Senator Rick Santorum will emphasize that he had only 2% of the vote before the 2012 Iowa caucus (true but it was a much lighter field) therefore he sill has a great chance to win and he may whine that he isn’t in the main debate. Lindsey Graham will attack Trump, Rand Paul and anyone else John McCain tells him to, and George Pataki will talk about being governor during 9/11 makes him the best candidate (but sadly for him it was Rudy Giuliani who got the press and credit nine years ago).
An interesting anecdote about Bobby Jindal comes from my wife whose interest in politics is non-existent. She asked me yesterday if Jindal is the guy who made that lousy response to the State of the Union Address years ago? There’s part of Jindal’s problem, a very successful governor, perhaps the smartest guy running for the GOP nomination and the number one thing he is remembered for is that “lousy” response to the SOTU address a few years ago. Jindal is not only fighting the other campaigns but his lousy 2009 performance. He needs to be as dominating tonight as Carly Fiorina was a month ago, otherwise he will be gone before the next debate.
Realistically there is a good chance that all four of these candidates will be gone before the October 28th CNBC debate, well— except for Rick Santorum who was “dead” in 2012 a long time before he decided to fall down.
In the end there is only one thing 100% sure about tonight’s debate. At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the majority of Republicans will be ignoring the Gipper’s famous 11th commandment; thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.
So get the big bag of popcorn and fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a very bumpy flight.