The GOP will stage its second of twelve presidential debates tonight. CNN will host with Jake Tapper and Hugh Hewitt serving as ringmasters for what promises to be a three ring circus.
Tonight all eyes will once again be on Donald Trump. Trump’s ticked off anti-establishment message has resonated with the Republican electorate to such an extent that he enters this debate as the prohibitive frontrunner.
Trump denigrates politicians, women, immigrants, war heroes, banks, lobbyists, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, and Russians with equal fervor. Such candor would spell the end for most political careers; yet somehow Trump’s candidacy continues to surge. Trump was polling at 24% on the eve of the last debate. At this writing 42% of primary voters say they will cast their vote for Trump. Meanwhile, opponents who dared to criticize his not so politically correct rantings have found themselves plummeting in those same polls.
No longer viewed as a cartoon character by the Washington elite; tonight Trump will find himself the number one target of the ten other candidates on that crowded stage. Their goal…to find a chink in Trump’s amour that will hurt him with the electorate while at the same time making a statement that will gain traction and air time with the media.
While Trump will certainly hog the spotlight he will not be the only story.
Many “establishment" Republicans still believe that Trump will eventually crash and burn. They are looking for an electable alternative that can rise above the fray. Word is that Tapper and Hewitt will accommodate those concerns by asking questions that pit one candidate against another; forcing the candidates to actually debate the issues.
It promises to be an interesting evening.
Here are a few of the things that I will be looking for.
Will Trump be able to fight off the onslaught that is certain to come at him from all sides? Will he finally say or do something that will bring about the end that so many Republicans have been waiting for? Will anyone be able to get Trump to provide the policy specifics that never seem to come with all the promises?
Will Ben Carson say anything that will justify his sudden surge to runner-up status in the polls? Thus far he is Trump’s closest rival in terms of his lack of specifics and general lack of knowledge. Is there any “there” there?
Will Jeb Bush continue to look like he would rather be doing anything than running for president? Will he finally look like the impassioned candidate that donors have paid $114 million to see?
Will Carly Fiorina give a similar performance to the one that got her promoted from the kids’ table to the main event?
Can establishment candidates Rubio, Walker and Kasich do enough to break through or have they reached their ceiling?
Does this debate mark the end for Rand Paul and Chris Christie? Or will they will they find a way to hang onto their dream for just a bit longer.
Will Jindal, Pataki, Santorum or Graham give a Fiorina like performance on the “kids’ table debate” that will catapult them onto the main stage?
There are those who place little significance in these first debates. They say “it’s too early for these debates to have any significant impact on the race.”
It won’t be long before the holiday season is upon us. Nobody is going to be paying any attention to this stuff from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. No sooner does the calendar turn that the first real votes are cast on February 1 at the Iowa Caucuses. New Hampshire quickly follows on February 9.
It is important for the candidates to build some momentum going into the holiday season. You want to be a relevant part of the conversation during that dead period. You don’t want to enter that four week sprint to Iowa at the back of the pack.
There are a dwindling number of opportunities to make political hay between now and the holidays. One of those opportunities occurs tonight.