Tonight is the second Republican debate. The field has been narrowed to 16 with Rick Perry dropping out last week, but there is still a long road to go before there’s an official Republican nominee for president. The first debate was hosted by fox news, this one will be hosted by CNN. On their website earlier today, CNN posted the article Seven Things to Watch at the CNN Republican Debate. They are hosting it, so taking a look at what they think is important for tonight will be relevant once we’re looking back on whatever gets said tonight. With that in mind I’m going to take their seven bullet points and add my own thoughts.
What will Trump say this time?
Tough not to lead with this. Trump’s perpetual attention machine has continued going strong since the last debates and I’d be willing to bet that whatever headlines lead tomorrow will include his name. The fox news debate drew in an estimated 24 million people and a fair amount of that is people who can’t take their eyes away from what that man is doing to the American political process. For the record, that’s more viewers than game 7 of the world series last year, but I don’t know whether that says more about our current views of politics or our current views of baseball.
Plenty of people have speculated that Trump has hit his ceiling, but he continues to poll higher. Especially because of the attention he’s able to draw, I do expect other candidates to go on the offensive a little more with Trump. He can’t be brushed off as easily as last year’s flash in the pan candidates like Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich. I’ll touch on this a little more later.
Trump vs. Fiorina
The fox news debate included 10 candidates, this debate will add one more. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina is jumping to the main stage and there are several obvious places she might clash with Trump. The clash between moderator Megyn Kelly and Trump was one of the more memorable moments of the debate, especially because it sparked something that is continuing to today with tweets from Trump about how her show, “was much better without her,” “she is really off her game,” and retweeting a follower saying, “the bimbo is back in town.”
This of course all starting because Megyn Kelly pressed the issue with Trump about his well documented misogyny. Last time though Megyn Kelly was the only woman on the stage. This time Fiorina will be up there with Trump, so it will be interesting to see how either of them address gender this time. Trump hasn’t shied away from commenting on Fiorina before saying in a Rolling Stone article, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” and also calling her one of the worst CEOs ever. Will Fiorina fire back?
It should also be noted that these two are naturally going to be compared because they’re resumes are so similar. They’re both political outsiders who have never held elected and office and get all of their leadership experience from the business sector.
What Hand will Ben Carson Play?
Ben Carson was relatively quiet in the first debate, 6:28 of speaking time compared to Trump’s 10:30, but his latest poll numbers have him gaining on Trump. In New Hampshire he’s only four points behind. It will be interesting to see how he acts tonight given his much improved odds at the nomination. Carson did take a shot at Trump last week on religious grounds, but has since walked those comments back. Will he stay soft spoken or will he make a more forward play tonight?
The Bush Reboot
This gets more into the idea of how candidates are handling Trump. Several months ago when Bush was polling miles ahead of everyone else he didn’t respond to Trump’s attacks against him for being weak on immigration. Bush figured taking the higher road looked better, and if I were his campaign adviser I would have told him to do that exact thing.
Then Trump polled higher, people started taking him more seriously, and seeing Bush not respond started to appear as weakness rather than presidential. Now that Bush’s polling numbers have dropped to single digits he has started going after Trump a little harder. I’m quite certain that trend will continue tonight. His super PAC is already spending more money on attack ads in Iowa. Bush and Paul are the two candidates I expect to really come out swinging tonight.
Can Scott Walker Salvage his Campaign?
Walker’s national poll numbers have dropped from 11% down to 2%, meanwhile in Iowa he’s polling a shade higher at 3%. Once considered a Tea Party darling his supporters seem to have gone to either Trump or Cruz which will make tonight particularly hard for him. What can he say to separate himself from those two while gaining back his supporters and not alienating the rest of the party? That’s a tough line to…walk.(I’m sorry)
A Spotlight on Foreign Policy
Trump was in the spotlight earlier this week for some foreign policy flubs on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show. Foreign policy will undoubtedly be on the table because of the Syrian refugee crisis going on in Europe. With candidates looking for weaknesses in Trump’s armor, this is certainly a point you’ll see emphasized a lot. It should also be noted that Hugh Hewitt is going to be one of the moderators tonight, so it will be interesting to see what sort of questions he has for Trump this time around.
Do or Die for the Undercards
Just like before the fox debate, there will be a ‘JV’ debate for four of the candidates polling the lowest. Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and George Pataki will all once again take the stage together. Seeing Fiorina jump from the undercard last time to the main event this time will give the candidates a little more to fight for during their debate, but I still doubt we’ll be talking about any of those names again between now and the election except to say which of the other 11 candidates they are supporting.
The action starts at 8pm eastern time tonight on CNN.