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August 06, 2015

Opening Night Of GOP Debate Season!

It's Political Nerd Christmas! And it's made all the more festive thanks to the inclusion of Santa Trump!

If you think Political Nerd Christmas is coming earlier and earlier, you're actually wrong. In 2011, we were on our THIRD national debate by August 11th.

Obviously the wait has made the anticipation stronger, so to get you through the day until 9pm eastern tonight, some thoughts on what may happen and what each candidate is looking to do.

Conventional wisdom says everything revolves around the classy and luxurious 800 pound gorilla in the room. But what does Trump need from tonight? Not much I'd argue. He's at or near the top of every poll, he's sucked all the oxygen out of the race and his biggest danger is people might actually listening to something he says on an issue. That's assuming he has something to say beyond, "I will solve that problem and it'll be amazing. I tell you, amazing."

The early thinking was that he would serve as a punching bag for everyone else but that was before he really started dominating the polls. I'm not sure there's any reason for anyone to go after him. He's willing to say something dumber and more insulting than any regular politician is willing to say back so picking a fight with him basically turns you into Tim Pawlenty at some point. That's never a good look.

My guess is the moderators (Brett Baier, Chris Wallace, and especially Megyn Kelly) will do the heavy lifting of going after Trump so let them. Besides, who gains from it? Christie and Kasich might be willing to battle with Trump but that's just because they are combative pricks. The problem is there's no political advantage to being a Trump antagonist. If there were, Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham might have been able to make the big show. But notice they weren't.

Trump might just get a pass out of tonight from other candidates.

Or he might not be able to help himself and the whole thing devolves into a literal fist-fight with ten of them rolling around on the stage like the end of a WWE show. It could go either way. Don't try this sort of analysis at home, I'm a semi-trained professional after all.

As for the rest:

Jeb! needs to not look like a puppet of the rich GOP donor class who can't actually talk or think on his feet. He's not having a great week what with the generally unimpressive performance in NH and the War on Women gift to Hillary. CNN covered the gaffe, showed a bite from Hillary attacking him over it and then ran about 90 seconds of him saying dumb stuff. It was amazing. We're not at do or die time for him by any means but Jeb! has to get it in gear at some point. Tonight would be a good time for him to start.


Scott Walker: As I've said before, he's always just sort of there. I want more from the guy but that's not him. His approach has worked ok thus far so I imagine we'll get more of the same tonight. He'll talk about winning not just fighting and beating the unions. Hopefully he won't have time to tell his Kohl's shirt story. Solid and steady is the game plan and no one has managed to throw him off it yet. There's no real reason for anyone to go after him at this point so I doubt that will change tonight.


Mike Huckabee: Hey, did you know he's running? Well he is. Seriously. I know, right? Not sure what the point is but he's here. His big contribution will likely be as a foil for Christie on entitlements. Huck, like Trump, is in the "don't you dare touch them" camp so this will likely be an area where it's possible to get some actual policy daylight between candidates.


Chris Christie: I'm just putting him here because of what I wrote about Huckabee. I could see Christie going after Trump but I think Huck is the more likely target. It will depend on the how the moderators set it up. It'll be interesting to see if Christie's "I'm here to tell you hard truths about entitlements" shtick leads to an opening for any of the other candidates to say, "Well, if you're the entitlement spending sheriff how come you embraced ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion that's driving up the debt?" I'm sure he has some tough talking comeback ready for that but I think a lot of voters just starting to pay attention will be interested to hear that Christie has embraced Obama's boondoggle. Though of course it's not the only time Christie has embraced Obama.


John Kasich: Seriously Republicans? This guy? You put this guy in the debate over Rick Perry and have pushed him into 2nd in New Hampshire? He's Jon Huntsman without the dirt bike and winning personality. Another ObamaCare supporter because God wants him to, the guy will spin all sorts of BS about his big reelection win in Ohio (his opponent imploded when it turned out he was basically a griffter). He did an end run around the GOP legislature to implement ObamaCare in Ohio and it's already well over budget. He's defense of this is the lame and false, "well, it's just the people of Ohio getting their money back."

Again, SERIOUSLY GOP?


Rand Paul: As a Rand Paul guy all I hope is tonight isn't the night the unpinned hand grenade goes off. Trump helps him not be the focus of establishment ire but also hurts him by not enabling him to be the go to guy for the pissed off crowd. It was always going to be a high-wire act for Paul and in a crowded field he's struggled to gain traction after a good start (go ask Debbie-Wasserman Schultz about abortion!). Best case scenario is he continues to find ways to synthesize his libertarian roots with more mainstream conservatism. In small bites he might come off reasonable enough to get a look from some people. The danger is too much focus on the NSA and he doesn't sound tough enough on Iran (though if he's too tough on Iran, libertarian types get mad).


Ted Cruz: The issue of the moment for conservatives is Planned Parenthood. This plays into his wheel house more than others. I imagine he's hoping that one of the moderators or another candidate will bring up his calling Mitch McConnell a liar. If they don't, he should. As long as he doesn't lapse into Senate speak (and that's not his style) when talking about it, punching McConnell will be a big hit.


Marco Rubio: It's kind of slipping away or at least not moving forward for him. The growth of Trump has hurt him by sucking up attention and potential supporters but also by putting the focus on amnesty. That's never a good thing for Rubio. He'll want to avoid that as much as possible tonight and focus on how much he loves America (bold!) and how awful the Iran deal is.


Ben Carson: Tonight's going to be the high-water mark for the guy. He's parlayed a speech at a prayer breakfast into a sort of campaign. The exciting thing about that speech was that he called Obama out to his face. People liked that. A lot. But now there's someone else in the "I'm the successful outsider who will take it to the big guys" niche and a lot of GOP voters are more in the mood to tell the GOP off than Obama at the moment. After tonight a lot of people will be left wondering who this guy is and how the hell he did he get on that stage when Perry and Bobby Jindal didn't. He'll likely let slip some of more liberal positions, say on guns, and that will be all she wrote for him.

Oh yeah, there's a bunch of not very classy losers debating at 5pm. Guys like Perry are saying it will be more substantive than the clown show at 9 so he's pretty excited about that. Spoiler: Nope. Look, I'm with the margin of error of the people in the 5pm debate. No one cares and none of them are going anywhere. Their best bet is to hope Carson gets bored or falls out of the Top 10 and they can make the next debate (though I'm not sure they've announced how that one is working yet).
Think of it as the Play-In game for the NCAA tournament. Sure, if you win you get to go to the big dance but you're still a 16th seed sacrificial lamb.

Naturally we'll have coverage tonight at the HQ. What that means, I haven't a clue.

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posted by DrewM. at 10:11 AM

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