Debate Night, Vegas Style

Tomorrow night, the GOP candidates for President face off in another debate, this time from Las Vegas, which will be focused on foreign policy and terrorism. Before the big night, I thought I’d share my brief thoughts and predictions for the candidates who will participate on the main stage.

Jeb Bush – Is he still here? The establishment’s lost hope continues to hang in there, though not much else. Since the last debate, he’s spent quite a lot of money attacking his rivals, but that hasn’t translated into better polling numbers. Expect Jeb to try to do something dramatic to bring the focus to himself, but don’t expect it to work.

Ben Carson – At the last debate, Ben was the lead candidate in some polls, now much of his support has drifted to other candidates in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Ben will try very hard to show off that he does indeed have foreign policy chops in an attempt to gain back some of his previous losses. You may even hear him take the GOP establishment to task on their rumored primary interference intending to prevent Trump, Cruz, or other perceived anti-establishment candidates from taking the nomination.

Chris Christie – After a very impressive show at the kiddie table last time, Chris is back to have another crack at seeming like a relevant candidate. With the NH primary approaching, Christie will try to make a big enough splash that will carry him to victory in New Hampshire, although he has a tough road ahead of him if he wants to convince conservatives that he’s one of them, and that they should just forgive or forget his past misadventures such as his post-hurricane seeming endorsement of Obama, his shaky history with the second amendment, or his adversarial relationship to the coal industry.

Ted Cruz – Ted returns, second only to Trump, and his numbers continue to rise. Right now, he’s favored to win the Iowa Caucuses in February, with a few points over Trump. Look to Ted to continue to play a disciplined debate game and not to go after any candidate, even as they will try to goad him to do so. He’ll try to keep his attacks to the administration, Hillary, and the terrorists, and if he has to answer a charge against himself from another candidate, he’ll try to be as general as possible, knowing that by attacking candidates directly he runs the risk that their supporters will take it personally. Ted will continue to position himself to be the beneficiary of disillusioned supporters of Trump, Carson, or Rubio.

Carly Fiorina – Carly has had a lot of trouble trying to recapture some of that lightning that she had in the first couple of debates. She’s not much on running negative, but she might be OK at doing this with Trump because of the history that they have together. Expect her to predict Trump attacks and be ready with something biting.

John Kasich – Expect John to interrupt a lot and make himself as much of a stench in the nostrils of as many potential voters as possible in his desperate attempt to save a candidacy that really has no purpose. This should be fun to see. Kasich is likely to drop out soon, but he may wait and see if he makes more than a blip on the NH primary radar, hoping for some East Coast good-will for a former Ohio governor.

Rand Paul – Just squeaking by, Rand avoids being exiled to the lower tier debate. With recent affairs dramatically shifting what voters believe is the most important issue (terrorism), Rand’s foreign policy beliefs put him at a distinct disadvantage. Look for him to attack many of the candidates on stage as being supportive of allowing terrorists into the country by not securing the borders, in an effort to recast his beliefs as strong on foreign policy.

Marco Rubio – Marco had a brief moment where he was occupying a number two or three slot in the polls, but enthusiasm has waned a bit, most likely because it seems that the GOP establishment is grooming him to be their guy since Bush and Kasich are going nowhere. Look for him to deliver a good performance, perhaps take a few shots at Cruz or Trump, but don’t expect his poll numbers to shift significantly unless Bush or another establishment candidate drops out, because in the eyes of many GOP voters, he’s seen as the guy who sold his soul to the devil. Marco is most likely to try to throw down with Cruz and Paul, and their efforts at ending the collection of bulk data from ordinary Americans.

Donald Trump – The Don’s numbers continue to rise, this in spite of the fact that he continues to take reactionary emotive stances and fails to have any detailed proposals of what he intends to do. Yes, I’ve heard of the wall. No one really knows what he wants to do, apart from making America great. No one knows what he believes in, besides Trump. Sure, he doles out a healthy amount of red-meat, but pandering can only go so far, and at some point he’s going to need to show that he really believes this stuff, that he has principles and not just platitudes. Look for the other candidates to attack him here, where he’s weakest. Much like Obama, the less you know about the guy the better he seems. Once his supporters start weighing what he says now against what he’s said in the past, then that may be the end of the Trump show. I anticipate that Trump will not be as reserved as he was last time, resting on his laurels; expect Trump to attack and insert himself as much as possible.

– Ryan Thorson

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