by Cole Muzio
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
In a confusing field of 17 that includes a brother/son to former presidents, nine current/former governors, five current/former senators, a former CEO of one of the world’s most recognizable tech companies, our nation’s most accomplished surgeon, the nation’s most recognizable and bombastic businessman, two former Iowa Caucus winners, and millions and millions of dollars between them- -the upcoming Fox debate will be the first opportunity to see a bit of clarity when it comes to analyzing the GOP candidates.
At least that’s what we hope.
A debate stage filled with ten highly competent and distinct candidates is unlikely to present any with the chance to substantially pull away from the pack. Further muddying the waters will be a “B Team” debate held among the also-rans–a sort of “try out” with the voters to see if any of the seven actually merit real consideration. Illustrating the nature of the competition in that secondary debate, however, is the fact that former VP hopeful and Limbaugh favorite Bobby Jindal, former ’12 early frontrunner Rick Perry, and ’12 Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum may headline the event likely to garner the attention of only the most intense politicos.
What a night Thursday will be!
Still, despite the confusion, each campaign knows the significance of the debate for its ability to continue. As such, objectives are clear for each candidate regarding what they hope to show in order to move forward and improve their chances.
1. Donald Trump: Show conservative bonafides. An argument could be made that the early frontrunner’s goal should be to “appear presidential,” and he would do well to do so. However, Trump’s main hurdle over the coming months and weeks will be to survive the sure to come attacks on his conservative record. Where does he actually stand on social issues? Why did he donate to so many leading lefties? What would Trump do as president? He has more excitement behind him than any other candidate for the moment, but, in order to keep the momentum, he has to sound like a true, committed, and principled conservative in the first debate.
2. Scott Walker: Have a moment. The Wisconsin governor may be the closest thing to a candidate that has appeal to each segment of the Republican Party, but that also means he struggles to “own” any particular space. Perhaps the safest bet to win the nomination right now, Walker needs to give viewers something to remember from the debate- a moment that gets people talking.
3. Jeb Bush: Show some conviction. Easily the most well known and best financed, Jeb’s the Establishment pick. Still, he is far from a run away and could see his campaign completely derailed if he can’t win New Hampshire. Though unlikely to have a big moment in the debate, the candidate of compromise will need to show where he will draw a line in the sand. Conservatives know Jeb won’t be their top choice, but he needs to show some level of conviction- that he won’t capitulate to the Left at every opportunity.
4. Ted Cruz: Live up to expectations. If there’s a candidate poised for a bounce following the debate, it’s Cruz- one of the most articulate conservatives in a generation and an Ivy League debater. Unfortunately for him, that has raised the bar quite high for the Texas Senator. If Cruz lives up to lofty expectations, he will be the talk of the evening and see his numbers rise. However, that means a good-not-great level performance won’t do.
5. Mike Huckabee: Be the charm-and-disarm conservative. People forget how good some of Huckabee’s ’08 debate performances were. Southern charm and humor allowed him to deflect concerns and win the hearts of many conservatives in the process. Such a quality made him a real force in that primary and a potential VP pick. Showing such skills again could quickly reestablish a brand that could be quite appealing after the GOP’s last nominee was seen as stiff, cold, and unable to make conservatism appealing to a broad electorate.
6. Ben Carson. Live up to the stage. A former neurosurgeon, Carson will be on the stage with some big personalities and experienced politicians. Carson is neither, but that doesn’t mean he lacks a story to tell. Comparatively soft spoke, the non-politician has a strong following, but he needs to show he can rise up to the occasion and hold his own on the stage. While unlikely to go negative, he needs to show a certain strength and gravitas over the course of the debates to see his numbers go up and his chances increase.
7. Marco Rubio. Paint the clearest vision of America and its place in the world. When Rubio talks of the American Dream and makes the case for renewed strength globally, crowds swoon. In a field full of those who have risen despite incredible odds, the Florida Senator tells his narrative the best. Still, his record, despite being an early Tea Party darling, often falls flat with conservatives. If he hopes to reverse slipping poll numbers, he needs to find that ability to excite again.
8. Rand Paul: Show some energy. No one has fallen harder over the course of the campaign than Paul- who many assumed would build on his father’s support to become a threat in Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond. Unfortunately, his campaign has been plagued by missteps and has failed to truly take off. Coming into the debate looking like a kicked dog and whining about lack of coverage could kill the Paul campaign. Showing energy, conviction, and a willingness to take on the whole field if he has to- like his father did- could turn around the fortunes of the Kentucky Senator.
To Be Continued …