Tonight might be the most pivotal Republican presidential debate of 2015. Not only is it the last debate of the year (though there’s another one in just about a month), but it’s the last bit of national exposure these candidates will get before things sort of settle down – slightly – during the holidays.
But this will be the debate where the candidates sling-shot themselves into the holidays, through the New Year, and try to set themselves up for a strong beginning to 2016 with the Iowa Caucus quickly approaching on February 1.
This debate will undoubtedly be overshadowed by Donald Trump – even more so than the previous ones have been. In the last few weeks since the last debate his rhetoric has reached fascist levels of radicalism, with even Republican party leadership denouncing many of his ideas. But even with the Speaker of the House – the de facto leader of the GOP – saying Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t represent the values of the Republican party, his poll numbers continue to rise to all-time highs. So I’m not sure how you can say Trump doesn’t represent your party’s values, when the vast majority of those who vote for your party seem to agree with him.
Another significant wrinkle to the Republican primary since the last debate has been the downfall of Ben Carson and the rise of Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s seemingly gone out of his way to avoid incurring Trump’s wrath.
All that being said, I thought I’d throw out some predictions and things to watch for during tonight’s debate.
1. I know it seems that he’s impervious to “downfall,” but I look for Trump’s numbers to take a bit of a hit after tonight. While he’s a master at manipulating crowds when he’s giving speeches, he tends to stumble through parts of these debates – though that hasn’t always equated to a drop in his poll numbers. I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that he’s gotten so cocky based upon his “wonderful” poll numbers – especially following his call to ban all Muslims – that he feels that he can say and do anything at this point and it won’t hurt him. I’m a firm believer in letting arrogant egomaniacs eventually believe that they’re invincible – that’s usually when they end up defeating themselves in some way or another.
Tonight I expect him to deal with an onslaught of attacks by several of the candidates and, at some point, his ego is going to get the best of him and he’s going to say something that eventually puts a big dent in his armor.
That or he’ll show up in a white hood, carrying a Confederate flag and his poll numbers will shoot up 11 more points. At this point, nothing would surprise me as it relates to Trump.
2. I look for this to be Rand Paul’s last stand. He didn’t even technically qualify for the main stage tonight as it is. Not only that, but at a time when more Americans are gravitating toward candidates who are “tougher on terrorism” (though that’s entirely subjective), I’m not sure his “isolationist-type” rhetoric is going to play well to a conservative crowd that’s becoming more war-hungry by the day. Unless his numbers go up 4-5 points following this debate, I really don’t see any reason for Paul to stay in the race.
3. Chris Christie is going to set another record for the amount of times he says Hillary Clinton’s name; make references to his time as a prosecutor; and go all-in on trying to out-arrogant Trump. Face it, if there’s one guy who can be just as big of an egotistical blowhard as Trump – it’s Christie. Why he hasn’t realized this and tried to build a campaign similar to Trump’s is mind-boggling (but I guess, commendable).
4. Jeb Bush is going to show up, try to act tough – fail – and he’s going to hover around 3-5 percent in the polls like he’s done for the last couple of months. Let’s face it, if Jeb’s last name wasn’t “Bush,” not only would he have dropped out by now – he wouldn’t have even run.
5. Marco Rubio will hold serve. Aside from Bush, he’s the RNC’s next favorite candidate, though there seems to be growing doubt about how he would hold up with the full weight of the national spotlight. While he performs fairly well in debates, he seems to falter a bit when he’s really challenged.
I am curious to see if the feud he and Cruz have built up over the last few weeks makes its way onto the stage tonight.
6. Ted Cruz is going to continue to be the coward that he is. While Cruz likes to talk tough, he’s actually quite spineless. He’s been kissing Trump’s backside for months. Yet things are different now – he’s a legitimate challenger to Trump’s place at the top of the polls. And while he had no problem bashing Trump in private, clearly not thinking his comments would be made public, he’s gone out of his way to try to avoid going toe-to-toe publicly with the current GOP presidential frontrunner.
Sure, he’s going to undoubtedly use the excuse for his avoidance of attacking Trump as “that’s what the media/establishment wants,” but that’s not the reason why he won’t take on Trump publicly. He’s terrified of battling Trump. First, he knows he can’t win. Second, a large part his entire strategy is predicated upon picking up Trump’s supporters in the event that the billionaire self-implodes – which Cruz is banking on him doing. Cruz also knows if he were to take on Trump – and likely lose – he would appear weak, it would completely expose him for the fraud that he is and it would hurt his chances with the Trump supporters he’s hoping to capture if “The Donald” ever comes tumbling down.
Cruz has built his entire career and presidential campaign off lies, misinformation, hollow propaganda and talking points – none of which hold up strong against stiff challenges from people looking to poke holes in his nonsense. That’s why I really don’t see him maintaining his standing as the “second place candidate” for very long. Now that he’s gotten the media’s attention, I fully expect his special brand of crazy to be on full display for those who seem to have forgotten how dangerous this guy is.
Honorary Mention: Ben Carson is going to be… Ben Carson. I think most of the country has finally caught on to the fact that he is woefully unqualified to be president. Unless he has some sort of magical debate performance that I don’t see happening, I expect his poll numbers to continue to slide and it wouldn’t shock me much at all to see him drop out of the race before the Iowa Caucus.
As for the rest (Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, George Pataki, John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham) – who cares? Aside from my own curiosity as to what Kasich or Graham (who didn’t qualify for the main stage) might possibly say about Trump, these are candidates who have no business being in the race.
Alright folks, there’s what I think may happen tonight.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter as I’ll be live-tweeting throughout the night!