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The first Republican presidential primary debate: Bring it on!

Commentary: Politically Aware

Tuesday, Fox News announced the 10 participants in the first Republican presidential primary debate: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich. With that question answered, we can start prognosticating about the issues and staging. Below are some questions to consider when watching tonight (or reading recaps tomorrow).

What happened at 2? The not-so-top-ten get the stage for an hour at 2 p.m. (Pacific). Don’t be surprised if issues, attacks and gaffes from the early show find their way into the main event at 6 p.m.

Will anyone actually debate? With 120 minutes spread over 10 candidates (and the moderators), there will be a temptation to use the debate as a staccato stump speech. Directly engaging the competition is high risk/high reward, so expect any fireworks to be set off by the lower polling candidates.

What will Trump do? As the poll leader, Trump will be center stage. Will he use the spotlight to toss rhetorical grenades or show that he can be a more traditional candidate? Pundits are suggesting Trump play the professional, but he’s gotten where he is by bucking conventional wisdom.

Who will attack Trump? Rick Perry has been Trump’s loudest critic on the campaign trail, but he didn’t make the cut. Those polling in single digits may risk attacking Trump just for extra camera time. If Bush or Walker take on Trump, it suggests they are no longer so certain he’ll collapse under his own ego.

Will Carly Fiorina have a champion? Leaving the only female candidate out of the main debate is an optical nightmare for Republicans. Advocating for Fiorina enough to woo her supporters without helping her get into the next debate is a tough needle to thread, but the upsides are sufficiently tempting that someone will probably try.

What crazy promises will be made? In 2012, Jeb Bush chided the Republican field for saying that they wouldn’t trade $10 in spending cuts for $1 in new taxes. My guess is that the moderators (and Ted Cruz) will push everyone to promise one or more of the following: a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage; a government shutdown before funding Planned Parenthood; no path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Will Bush, or anyone, stand up against the hard right to better position themselves for the general election?

Who breaks through? There will likely be two success stories. The ticket from the Fox News undercard to the next main event probably goes to Fiorina if she turns in a strong anti-Hillary performance, though Perry may grab it with a mix of righteous indignation and sympathy. Someone on the main stage will go from forgettable to relevant, most likely Christie or Kasich by taking on Trump or Bush, respectively.

Who underperforms? Trump is in danger of being the dud for not mellowing out for the pundits, or for doing so and losing his angry base. If Trump and Bush don’t make news, expect Rubio, Paul or both to get labelled as “having missed their opportunity.”

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Posted by on Aug 5, 2015. Filed under Bottom Highlights, Politically Aware. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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