Predictions for tonight’s CNN debate…

I’m going to do the same thing I did last time for my debate predictions format. It’s just easier this way than going over every single candidate individually. The first thing I will predict is that Jake Tapper, Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash will all do a terrific job and it will probably be a lively event with maybe some twists and turns.

6 PM debate: Once again, we have yet another “kids table” debate. The only difference is that the candidates participating in this debate are even more irrelevant than they were a month ago. Also, there will be one less candidate since Rick Perry suspended his campaign due to lack of any interest whatsoever. Also, he’s terrible at running for president. As far as I know, the moderators will still be conservative talk-radio star Hugh Hewitt, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash (as they are scheduled to host the main event at 8 PM). Here are the following participants in tonight’s “kids table” debate:

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham; former New York Gov. George Pataki; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore

What to look out for: So last time I predicted there would be strong performances from Santorum and Graham. I turned out to be very, very wrong on Graham, and sort-of right on Santorum. Graham looked very depressed and bored last time, and I haven’t really seen an acknowledgement on his part that he needs to change that for tonight. Moreover, even if the questions tonight are geared towards foreign policy (supposedly his “area of expertise”), I haven’t seen any compelling evidence that he will give answers that will make him stand out. As far as Santorum is concerned, he doesn’t seem to be playing up the same “blue collar voter” angle as he did last time. I think Santorum will try to steer the conversation towards foreign policy, but it’s possible he may be asked about the GOP’s impending plan to shut the government down over defunding Planned Parenthood. Or perhaps he will get a question regarding Kim Davis and use that as an opportunity to play the “christians are so totally persecuted in America” angle. Either way, it’s not clear if this crowd will really eat it up like they would in the South or in Iowa. Yes, it’s true that certain parts of Southern California (i.e. San Diego and Orange Counties) are very conservative, but I think immigration, foreign policy and economic issues will be more on their minds than social issue.

As far as Governor Jindal is concerned, it’s true that last time I thought he would do poorly and he did prove me wrong. However, we saw no bounce in the polls after his debate performance, hence he is still participating in the early debates. It’s possible he may have another opportunity to shine tonight, particularly because there are two less debate participants than there were back in August. But as I stated last time, if he gets questions that pertain to his record as Governor of Louisiana, he’s screwed. As evidence by a recent interview he conducted with Chris Wallace of Fox News shows, he just cannot dig himself out of the hole that his state is in. I’ve always maintained that Jindal is a smart guy, but in truth that doesn’t really matter if your state is in the crapper. Not to mention the fact that this is a Southern California audience, which is definitely not his crowd. I’m not going to bother wasting my time posting anything regarding Former Governors George Pataki and Jim Gilmore, as they are nothing but joke candidates. Neither of them will have anything interesting to say, and frankly, I would be surprised if anybody in the audience knew who either of them were.

Predictions: Moderately strong performances from Santorum and Jindal and unnoticable performances from Graham, Pataki and Gilmore.

And now we have the second “Grown Up Table” debate. Here are the candidates who are scheduled to appear in the main event:

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; Carly Fiorina; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich

What to look out for: Just an FYI up front, the CNN format tonight will be pretty much the same as it was with Fox News last month. Furthermore, people are already predicting that the winner of tonight’s debate will be Donald Trump. Josh Vorhees of Slate correctly states that since Trump was able to get his feet wet a month ago, he now understands the format and the level of scrutiny he will face as the current front-runner. Vorhees also makes a good point that the GOP loyalty pledge issue is now a dead issue as Trump signed it a few weeks ago. Once again, I doubt Trump will engage in any substantive ideas, except maybe this time on immigration. Trump will inevitably be asked to explain why he supports repealing the 14th Amendment and how exactly he plans on rounding up an entire population that is roughly the size of Ohio. Trump also hit it out of the park with the Rosie O’Donnell joke last time, so if he gets a chance to engage in celebrity bashing, he will definitely take it. Trump will undoubtedly be attacked from Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul. Carly Fiorina is coming off of a strong performance she had at the “kids table” debate last month, and she knows in order to be taken seriously she has to attempt to outshine Trump. Fiorina may be able to do so, but she will run into trouble because she is an outsider when ti comes to building the wall along the Mexican border (which she has expressed skepticism of). Fiorina and Trump will also compete based on their business acumen, and frankly it’s going to be hard for her to explain how her business record is better than Trump’s. Regardless, this may be her only chance to steal the spotlight, so she has to take it.

As for the other candidates who will inevitably throw bombs at Trump, Rand Paul is going to go with the “Trump is a celebrity” line and continue to be a cantankerous curmudgeon. Naturally, after this strategy gets him nowhere (yet again), Paul will blame Trump for his woes instead of blaming his own campaign missteps. As for the other person who will go for the jugular, Jeb Bush has been hammering Trump claiming he is an insufficient conservative. Perhaps Jeb Bush may receive a question tonight regarding his tax plan, which according to the Citizens For Tax Justice would give the biggest cut (specifically, 53 percent of the benefits of his tax cut) to the richest one-percent of taxpayers (H/T Jonathan Chait). This would be a perfect opportunity for Trump to strike back at Bush, as Trump has indicated that he is okay with someone with his income paying higher taxes (and he will need to be if he wants to fund that very expensive “deport all the immigrants” plan of his).

As for the other participants, the only real questions left are will Ben Carson continue to go any higher after tonight’s debate and will Scott Walker’s numbers continue to get any lower? Carson has been mostly stand-offish regarding the topic of Trump, even though he had some unkind words about his faith last week (which Carson subsequently apologized for this week). Carson has to prove himself worthy of the second in command status, so you have to figure he has something in his back pocket planned for tonight (Alex Isenstadt certainly does). As for Ted Cruz, his numbers haven’t been too bad as of late. Cruz usually polls somewhere around 6-8 percent, but interest in his campaign hasn’t really taken off. Cruz did better than I thought he would back in August (I said he would do somewhere in between decent and strong, he ended closer to strong), but there is still a certain cloud hanging around his campaign. I think it mostly has to do with him being the ringleader for advocating yet another government shutdown in a few weeks, but hey, what do I know? As for Scott Walker, it’s clear that any interest there was in his campaign is clearly dissipating, and quickly. Walker is polling around 3 percent, and frankly his time as a campaigner may be over in the next six weeks. I would say the same for Marco Rubio, but Rubio still has some tricks up his sleeve. Not to mention the “Republican Establishment” needs a back-up candidate in the event that Bush’s campaign fails to gain any traction in the next few months. In the debate previews that I’ve read, people are clearly overlooking Rubio, but I’m not ready to call him dead just yet. As for Kasich, this is not his territory. It’s true that Southern California Republicans are probably closer to him than Republicans in the South and Midwest are (yes, I know Ohio is in the Midwest but moderates are still viable there), but Kasich hasn’t seen the jump he needs to compete in New Hampshire. I simply fail to see how Kasich makes himself a viable establishment-friendly tonight. As for Chris Christie, he got into an interesting spat with Rand Paul last time, and has since tried to recruit Trump supporters by comparing tracking undocumented immigrants to tracking Fed-Ex packages. While the Southern Californian Republican climate is probably more favorable to Christie than most other candidates, it’s still hard to see a way for him to stand out tonight. The “Republican Establishment” have clearly given up on him and Kasich, and I don’t see much road further ahead for either of these guys. Speaking of not much road left to pursue, Mike Huckabee will go unnoticed tonight.

Predictions: Strong performances from Rubio, Cruz and Fiorina. Decent performances from Trump, Bush and Walker (again). Rand Paul will continue to sound like a spoiled and ungrateful pissant. Despite the fact that I thought Ben Carson did a terrible job last month, the Republicans who were watching clearly liked him and he’s gotten a significant bounce since then. I will keep my prediction that I think he will be dull and boring but Republicans who are watching may continue to be enthralled by his calm demeanor. Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and John Kasich will go unnoticed.

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