2016 Republicans, Debates, Uncategorized

Debate Prep: The Main Event (Part Two)

August 6, 2015

If you haven’t enjoyed the wonder that is Part One, please read that section first.


Marco Rubio

Spectrum: Has wound up toward the establishment side of things, while not being unacceptable to the outsiders.  Is probably slightly to the moderate side for the field, though liberals would chuckle heartily at that characterization.  Like Walker, he potentially appeals to almost everyone, but isn’t capturing them as well as he is.

Path: South Carolina.  There are better Iowa candidates and better New Hampshire candidates and Rubio knows it.  What he’s attempting has never worked before, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.  Several reasons:

No choice.  He’s not likely to win either of the first two states.

South Carolina does matter.  Until Newt Gingrich won SC and then imploded in 2012, the Republican who won the Palmetto State won the nomination every time (normal post-1972 caveat).  The standard outcome is one candidate wins Iowa, another wins New Hampshire and South Carolina breaks the tie.

In 2012, Newt’s win after finishing down several pegs in IA and NH pushed the decision to Florida, where Romney won.  Rubio can’t count on Florida either, unless Jeb really underperforms (like well worse than he’s doing now).

This is a Black Swan year.  Jeff Greenfield wrote a piece recently suggesting that we need to at least consider the possibility Donald Trump could actually become president.  His thesis was that occasionally the political climate is such that regular outcomes are not guaranteed.

Whether or not we get to see Trump gold plate a bunch of White House bathroom fixtures, between the temperament of voters and amount of candidates, there is a decent possibility the field will take longer to shake out than usual.  The huge amounts of available PAC money give candidates more flexibility to hold off on throwing in the towel.

The last real suspense in a nominating contest was 1952, when Republicans went to the convention not knowing if enough delegates would like Ike, or if longtime stalwart Robert Taft would get the nod.  One of these years the brokered convention junkies have dreamed about for generations will actually happen.

Failing at that, with very high approval ratings and as the second choice of many, Rubio is a great default option if none of the others can clear the field quickly.

Rubio is 44.  With the possible exception of Bobby Jindal, every other candidate has their best opportunity this time, or had their best opportunity in the past.  While he wants to win, and has beaten the odds previously, Rubio is probably the top VP choice for many of the other candidates, and will definitely be able to try again in 2020 or 2024 if necessary.  No sense in closing off avenues by trying to conform too closely to the IA or NH ideal candidate model.

Overlaps With: Most of the field.  Jack of all voters, master of none.  Realistically, Bush and Walker are probably the biggest direct competitors.  Rubio is also a consolation prize for Cruz voters in a world where The Donald isn’t an alternative, and perhaps even if he is.

Should Do: There are three possible debating techniques.  The first is the classical one from debate class where two people face off and address each other’s arguments.  This is tricky in a 10-person debate, but you may see someone try it anyway.

The second is to address the audience and pay little attention to the others on stage.  This is absolutely the right choice for Rubio.  He’s not going to pick up 10 points in the polls overnight, but he’s one of the most charismatic candidates in the race and sounds different than any of the others.  With so many contestants having similar views, the delivery makes a big difference.  He needs to remind voters they may prefer hearing Scott Walker’s thoughts in Rubio’s words.

The third is a new technique, introduced in 2012.  It’s called the Gingrich, where the candidate debates the moderator.  Trump can and probably will make this one work.  Rubio should probably avoid.

Will Do:  Like the majority of his competitors, Rubio will probably do almost exactly what was prescribed.  These candidates have better perspective than the journalists covering them and have likely done a decent job making sure their donors are on board with their plan.

The transition to giant PAC money has done two important things.  First, as mentioned previously, they have more money and can stick around longer.  Second, they don’t need as many donors.  It’s far easier to convince three sugar daddies your plan doesn’t suck than thousands of individual contributors.

Big time donors have 17 choices.  Those who picked Rubio did so for a reason.  They knew he was not making a big push for Iowa or New Hampshire.  They knew he was the second choice of many, the first choice of few.  As long as he can stay in the top half, they won’t panic.

Upside/Downside:  Only downside is if he gets caught up with Trump, or I’m dead wrong and he panics into getting away from his game.  Otherwise, either he does ok and stays about where he is, or does well and gets a nice boost as everyone remembers why they thought it would be neat to make Hillary have to deal with him.


Mike Huckabee

Spectrum: Semi-outsider, social conservative.  He’s not a complete outsider as a three-term governor and long-time Fox News personality, but he’s not on the Approved Establishment Republican list.  Checks all the boxes on the social conservative side, is appropriately hawkish on foreign matters.  Leans a bit populist economically.

Path: I-O-W-A.  The Hawkeye State is why you know Huckabee exists.  Following in the southern-fried footsteps of Jimmy Carter, Huck came out of total obscurity to win the 2008 caucus.  Unfortunately, Huckmentum hit the wall due to lack of funds and staff to fully leverage the victory.

He’s hoping the sequel is better than the original, and like many sequels has a bigger budget for Part 2.  The risk is producing Hangover 2, where the ride just isn’t as fun when you’ve seen it all before.  So far, he’s actually doing pretty well, running well ahead of Rick Santorum (Winner of the 2012 Huck Trophy for unexpectedly winning Iowa by mobilizing social conservatives).  He’s also hanging in with opponents like Ben Carson with plenty of appeal to some of his voters.

Overlaps With: Carson is a definite social conservative option.  Cruz is plenty socially conservative, while also being more of a traditional Republican economic conservative.  Trump is picking up a bit of Huck’s Bubba Vote.  Given the competition, results so far are good.  Time will tell whether he’s closer to his floor or his ceiling.  None of the three mention above are quitting before Iowa.

Should Do: Focus on social issues.  It’s his thing.

Will Do: Focus on social issues.  It’s his thing.

Upside/Downside: Limited on both sides.  Huckabee is an experienced debater and has spent the last several years in front of the camera, so he’s unlikely to make any major errors.  On the other hand, he’s not the new, surprising face.  Some will remember they really like him, others will find newer options more interesting.


Rand Paul

Spectrum: Outsider who goofed by trying to become more establishment friendly and is now tacking back toward his roots.  This would have worked really well if 10 of the candidates hadn’t shown up.  He tried broadening his base in a cycle where narrowcasting is better (at least until most of these guys drop out).  He’s the libertarian conservative option.  If you’re socially conservative but think the government should leave people alone, Rand is your choice.  If you think we should stay out of many of our foreign entanglements, Rand is your choice.

Path: His dad pushed in both Iowa and New Hampshire and did pretty well in both before fading.  The challenge for Rand as it was for Ron is South Carolina.  That’s a very military-friendly state, and the Pauls are decidedly non-interventionist.

If Rand can get his pitch down over the next couple of months, his opening is the fragmented field, particularly in states with open primaries/caucuses.  With so many candidates, 15-18% may get many second place finishes and some delegates.  The obstacle is Bernie Sanders, who will pull some nonaffiliated voters over to the Democratic side.

Overlaps With: Bernie Sanders.  This is his biggest problem.  The way Rand could have won New Hampshire was to pull a bunch of younger, disaffected Obama supporters over to the Republican side of the primary.  They now have an alternative.

Ted Cruz is an alternative for voters who would like a more hawkish version of Paul.  Trump is an alternative for voters trying to fight the establishment.  Carson is another outsider who will appeal to some.

Should Do: Remember he’s a Paul first, Republican second.  The rationale for his candidacy was always that he could communicate his father’s message in a more “serious, credible” way.  Until the field narrows, he’s a taller, less rumpled version of his dad.

Will Do: Think he’s on board with the above if the signals from the past few days are an indication.

Upside/Downside: Think he’s about at his floor right now, pulling 5% or so in recent polls.  Only one way to go.  He can pick up a couple points by getting back in his groove.  Can pick up a couple points more if one of his direct competitors don’t do real well.  Wonder if he can challenge Bernie to a debate to make sure they’re getting in front of some of the same voters?  Think a one-on-one in NH would benefit both.


Ben Carson

Spectrum: Extreme outsider with a loyal group of followers, social conservative, conservative in general.  Need to pay more attention to him.  Trump stole my study time.

Path: Finish ahead of Huckabee in Iowa, see what happens in New Hampshire.  Carson is not likely to get the nomination.  However, he may have his moment, and if people will strongly consider Trump, there’s no reason to disqualify Carson.

Right now the existence of Trump is probably a positive, giving Carson more time to get his bearings and build a foundation before the scrutiny hits him.  In the long run, he needs The Donald to tarnish a little to have a path.  There are only so many primary voters willing to choose someone who has never held elective office.

Overlaps With: Trump, Cruz, Huckabee and maybe ever so slightly Paul.

Should Do: Whatever he’s most comfortable with.  This is his first official presidential debate.  While he’s appeared on television many times, he doesn’t have the depth of media experience Trump does.  Take it easy this round.  He’s very likely to stay in the top 10 going forward, so will almost definitely qualify for the next debate without going on a limb in this one.

Will Do: The above.  Dr. Carson is an extremely dignified sounding man.  There are people who are sick of the establishment, tired of Republicans talking a big game and then not delivering.  Not all of these voters are looking for someone who is rude and bombastic.

Upside/Downside: Unless he commits a major gaffe, moderate upside.  His big opportunities are probably a month or three off.

End of Part Two.  Stay tuned for Part Three, where we cover the two bubble boys, Christie and Kasich, along with Ted Cruz.

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