Debate number five among the Republican candidates happens this evening at 8:30 pm. I thought I would toss out my two cents about what to expect in tonight’s debate.
I went over to CNN’s website to see who would be moderating.
Wolf Blitzer, Cruz Derangement Syndrome suffering Dana Bash and the token conservative Hugh Hewitt. With a line-up like that, something tells me that it will be cringeworthy to watch. Maybe not as cringeworthy as a Democrat debate, but I have learned to keep expectations low when CNN is at the helm.
The undercard debate (which I may skip, I haven’t decided) will be between George Pataki (who has surged to zero in the latest Quinnipiac poll in Iowa), Rick Santorum (who was the 2012 winner of the Iowa caucus but now finds himself sharing the same level of support as Pataki), Lindsey Graham (another zero), and Mike Huckabee (who is blowing them out of the water with 1% support in Iowa).
Can you see why I’m not certain I want to bother watching the undercard?
Clearly at least Santorum and Huckabee want to hang on until after the Iowa Caucus. My guess is, as previous winners, they want to see if perhaps the polls are wrong and they show well among actual caucus-goers. I don’t blame them for that. Polls this early on are rarely prescient, and I’m sure they both want to wait until caucus-goers actually do their thing before calling it quits. But I’m guessing both Santorum and Huckabee may pull out of the race after February 1 — or at the latest after New Hampshire. I could be wrong. But that’s my theory.
Graham on the other hand is going to hold on by hook or by crook until after South Carolina. It’s his state, after all. My guess is, he wants to wait until then to see if he can sway his fellow South Carolinians to hand him a victory. When that doesn’t happen, I think Lindsey will take his marbles and go back to Washington to cry in John McCain’s arms.
Pataki? I can’t begin to make predictions about his exit from the race because I haven’t yet figured out why he entered it. It isn’t like we were all clamoring for a second New York Liberal to run for the GOP nomination.
I think what we can expect from the undercard debate is four guys without a prayer trying to make the case for why they should still be seriously considered. That means Lindsey will go all Jack Bauer with a southern twang while Santorum boasts about his foreign policy chops from way back when he was in the Senate. Huckabee will be his soft-spoken, charming self to no avail. And George Pataki will continue to try and convince himself that he is relevant.
The prime time debate is down to nine. Which isn’t really “down to” since nine is a hellatious number of candidates. Any old how. They are Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump.
It’s a no-brainer to predict that the moderators will make the most of trying to further drive a wedge between Trump and Cruz. Especially Dana Bash since she probably can’t figure out which of them she despises more.
I expect what will determine whether or not Trump takes the bait and hammers Cruz will depend on whether the audience is a staid and respectful crowd or whether they’re a hooting, hollering, red-meat-loving crowd. When the debate audience is quiet and respectful, Trump tends to dial back the number on his bloviating meter. When they’re a rowdy bunch, he kicks it up to eleven.
Cruz has one advantage over Trump in a head-to-head match-up. Cruz can remember every single word another person says. It will be pretty easy for him to simply toss back Trump’s own words at him and then dismantle each criticism.
As Mark Levin pointed out last night on his show, there is nothing wrong with hitting your opponents provided you hit them on policy and you never resort to attacking them from the Left. If Trump heeds this, he may be able to score some hits on Cruz. But again, that will depend on the type of audience. If the audience gets riled up and fired up over below-the-belt attacks, Trump will hit below the belt.
Cruz has shown in previous debates that he is more than capable of handling direct shots. He dismantled Kasich handily in the second debate (regarding Iran) and the Fox Business debate (regarding bank failures).
But Cruz can expect to be attacked by not only Trump, but Rubio. Rubio and the PAC associated with him have been hammering Cruz for weeks in Iowa. Something tells me that Rubio will focus his attention on going after Cruz the same way he went after Jeb Bush during the CNBC debate in October.
My guess is, since a lot of the conventional wisdom believes that this GOP nomination fight will ultimately be between Rubio and Cruz, and Rubio probably believes conventional wisdom, he sees Cruz as his actual competition.
The quandary for CNN is, they really do not want Ted Cruz to have a lot of air time. Cruz, being the expert debater that he is, shines when he is given an opportunity to actually speak. And trust me, CNN does not want Cruz to shine (especially Dana Bash who has such a bad case of Cruz Derangement Syndrome, she has to go in for treatments at least six times a week). But if they want to fan the flames of dispute (which of course they do), they may have no choice but to suck it up and give Cruz the airtime.
Bush will continue his flaccid attempt to convince us that he is still in this race. Even as I type this, I bet Jeb and his handlers are furiously going over his talking points to make sure Jeb has them properly memorized. It isn’t a stretch to predict that Bush will come off as automated, stiff and irrelevant.
And then there’s John Kasich. Kasich’s entire reason for not dropping out in abject humiliation is his evermore fleeting hope of winning New Hampshire. Chris Christie is beginning to pick up steam in the Granite State — in part because he has been endorsed by the Union-Leader. The last poll of likely New Hampshire voters (taken on the 11th) shows Christie surging to tie for second place with Marco Rubio. Meanwhile, Johnny boy is at 6%. The likelihood he experiences a surge are slim, but I’d venture to guess he’s hoping the next couple debate performances help him.
Kasich’s problem is he comes off as a whiny, angry asshole. He absolutely oozes irritation, not only at his fellow GOP opponents, but at voters for not having the wisdom to support him. Except for the first debate in August (held in his home state of Ohio), Kasich has been steadily worse in each subsequent debate. Desperation does that to you, you know.
I expect Carly will continue her attempt to reclaim the support she held after the August undercard debate. She will play it safe by sticking with her well-honed talking points. I do anticipate Carly will be the one who pushes the narrative that she is the one best positioned to take on Hillary. Which doesn’t exactly make sense since it is hard to be best positioned when your most recent polling in Iowa and New Hampshire both sit at 3%.
Do expect Carly to run over her time limit and interrupt everyone.
Rand Paul had to fight to be included in this main stage debate. His performance, like Trump’s, will depend a lot on the type of audience. If they are subdued and respectful, Paul may be able to show some strength. But if they are a rowdy bunch that reacts well to under-the-belt attacks and scenery-gobbling, Rand will have a tough time. He tends to come off as a petulant teenager when things get rowdy.
Chris Christie has a lot riding on the next couple of debates. He needs to bolster his support and use the momentum he is gaining in New Hampshire to catch fire among voters. Christie will be unaffected by the type of audience because, much like Cruz, he is a very good debater. Right now he is not doing particularly well in Iowa — in the most recent poll by Quinnipiac, he is nestled down at three percent. But Christie’s eyes are on New Hampshire. My guess is, he is hoping to build on his rise in support there through his performance in this debate. Which means he will try to balance on that fine line between appearing conservative while assuring everyone he is actually moderate.
Ben Carson will be Ben Carson. Debates are not his strong suit. He is a brilliant man, but he is not a debater. He will continue with his measured, thoughtful responses. This debate will neither hurt nor help him.
I’m thinking Carson, like Santorum and Huckabee, may be waiting to see how the Iowa Caucus shakes out. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, depending on the results of Iowa and New Hampshire, he decides to step out of the race and throw his support behind someone else. I may be wrong. He may hang on until South Carolina. But something tells me he is already mapping out his exit strategy.
So, there you have it. We’ll find out if I’m pretty accurate or talking out of my ass in just a few hours.
The Debate is on CNN beginning at 6:00 pm Eastern for the Undercard with the Main Event starting at 8:30 pm EST.
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Books by Dianny:
RANT 2.0: Even More Politics & Snark in the Age of Obama,
Liberals Gone WILD!!! The Not-So-Silent Conquering of America,
RANT: Politics & Snark in the Age of Obama,
and two novels: Sliding Home Feet First and Under the Cloud