So here we are, one day away from the first Republican presidential debate. Everyone is obviously excited for Donald Trump and the outrageous things he’ll inevitably say (s well as the other candidates), but there’s still more to look out for tomorrow evening. Before we get into that, as well as my predictions, let’s go over the format for both of tomorrow’s debates.
5 PM debate: This debate has either been referred to as the “happy hour debate” or the “kids table debate”. The implication being that this debate will not matter at all as the candidates are unimportant and have no chance at winning the nomination. It may be that the candidates below will have no shot at winning the nomination, but make no mistake that this debate still matters. For example, if former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum does a good job in the debates, it could remind GOP primary voters why he was a strong contender in 2012, even though he didn’t end up winning the nomination. With that said, here are the candidates who will be competing in the first debate tomorrow:
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; former HP head Carly Fiorina; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham; former New York Gov. George Pataki; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore
What to look out for: Be on the lookout for strong performances from Santorum and Graham. These are two guys who have very extensive debate experience and are both lively characters with a viable amount of charisma. Each of them have their own issues as to why they are looked down upon by conservatives, but I do believe that Santorum and Graham stand the most to benefit from the first debate and could see their numbers augment in the polling going forward into the fall. People have commented that it’s interesting that Rick Perry was left out of the debate. In my opinion, lots of people still believe that he’s not ready for prime time, and I’m sure there are people at Fox News who do not want to see another “oops” moment and turn the main debate into a unintentional comedy show. Perry will either be cautious and leave zero impressions on voters or will flub something that should be easy for a person running for president (the other day he was on Sean Hannity’s program and he referred to our 34th president as DAVID Eisenhower).
Carly Fiorina has been getting attention from some conservatives (surprisingly some at NRO), but it’s hard for me to believe that her bland personality will allow her to stand out. Overall, I think she’ll make a decent impression on the stage but will not see her numbers bounce up in the following months. I believe the same will be true for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal is not a strong public speaker, despite the fact that he is an educated and articulate man. Moreover, the poor conditions of his state make his the hardest record to defend. Former Governors Pataki and Gilmore will go unnoticed as both individuals have not served in the public sector for a very long time and have not gained any traction among conservative voters at all.
Predictions: Strong performances from Santorum and Graham, decent performances from Jindal and Fiorina, unnoticable performances from Perry, Pataki and Gilmore.
Let’s move on to the “Grown Up Table” debate. Here are the candidates who are scheduled to appear the main event:
Real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich
What to look out for: As I stated above, everyone’s going to be watching for the current front-runner, Donald Trump. People are constantly questioning whether he’ll be ready to make actual substantive points instead of generating wild (and impossible to execute) policy initiatives to convince GOP primary voters that he understand their language. I doubt Trump will engage in substantive ideas, but I do believe he will not be as boisterous and bombastic as he’s previously been. I think Trump decided that the month of July was his month to make as much noise as possible. Since his controversial antics have clearly paid off for him (he is still overwhelmingly the front-runner), I think Trump is starting to look to develop a smaller and more appealing profile. Trump has not done anything radical as he did last month (i.e. giving out other candidates phone numbers), and has laid off some of the vituperative rhetoric that got him mass publicity. Admittedly, political junkies (including myself) and “experts analysts” alike vastly underestimated Trump’s ability to not only ingratiate himself in the GOP nomination race, but also dominate the conversation. Still, it remains unclear how long he will continue to be on the minds of GOP primary voters.
As for other candidates who could show strong performances, I believe the main reason Ohio Governor John Kasich was included in the main debate (despite his weak polling and name recognition) is that there are several members of the “Republican Establishment” who see him as a viable alternative to Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Kasich is a good debater and may be the one who can convince GOP primary voters to use their anger in a constructive fashion instead of throwing rhetorical bombs. Speaking of inflammatory rhetoric, expect Ted Cruz to be attacking Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Cruz will continually assail Bush’s conservative credibility (as he has repeatedly done for months on end now) and make GOP primary voters weary of nominating another Romney/McCain/Dole-type Republican. Cruz will not win the nomination, but he is arguably a stronger anti-establishment candidate than Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann were in 2012.
Former Governor Jeb Bush is not having a good week as he recently made a few misstatements that have hurt his campaign. Bush will look to recalibrate and reestablish himself as the party’s “serious” nominee, but he does not exactly have a charming personality and will inevitably struggle to convince anti-establishment voters of his conservative credibility. The same can partly be said for Walker. Walker’s conservatism is stronger than Bush’s (save for some spending issues and immigration), but his personality is still very mundane and uninspiring. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has a definite possibility to stand out, as he is quite charismatic and eloquent. However, Senator Rubio will probably be questioned about his abandonment of a more liberal approach to immigration, and that may end up tripping him up and reminding GOP primary voters why they soured on him two years ago. Aside from the “Republican Establishment” candidates, the most damage Trump has done is to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s campaign. Senator Paul may try to use his (slightly) different approach to foreign policy to make him stand out, but it will inevitably backfire on him that same way it backfired on his father in 2012 and 2008. The Republican Party is not a dove-ish party, and despite Paul recanting his previous positions on cutting defense spending, negotiating with Iran and not using military force to defeat ISIS/ISIL, Paul will not stand out in this debate.
Predictions: Strong performances from Kasich and Rubio, as well as decent performances from Trump, Bush and Walker. Cruz and Paul will likely be somewhere in between. Despite their alluring and provocative personalities, Governors Huckabee and Christie will go unnoticed. Despite the fact that both candidates have recently gained traction among GOP primary voters, Huckabee’s debate performance will quickly remind voters why he stumbled in 2008. As for Christie, I’m sure that he is comfortable with being on the national stage and getting to the “Grown-Up Table” is a big win for his campaign. However, there just doesn’t appear to be any wiggle room for Christie’s campaign, and his brand is not playing as well in Iowa and South Carolina as Trump’s brand is (despite their uncanny similarities). Ben Carson will likely serve as the comedy fodder for liberals like myself watching purely for entertainment purposes.