2016 Republicans, Debates, New Hampshire, Uncategorized

Debate Preview: Verbal Roller Derby

February 6, 2016

There’s no way it doesn’t get a little nasty on stage this evening.  If you want to see a few pre-Super Bowl hits, tune in to ABC at 8pm (Eastern).  Donald Trump is back and knows he needs to close strong.  Marco Rubio has a whole pack of governors trying to chop him down.  Ben Carson is more than miffed at Ted Cruz.

Here’s my friendly advice to the crew:

Donald Trump

At this point, there’s no point in changing course.  He’s still doing well in New Hampshire polls.  He has a definite constituency there, one that wasn’t too rattled by what happened in Iowa.  However, a loss here will affect him down the road.  Once is a fluke, a product of the caucus process.  Twice is a trend.

Let out the Full Donald.  He did well against Cruz in the last debate he participated in.  After Cruz bested him in Iowa, it’s time to regain his alpha status.  If he can let Ted throw the first punch and then counter, all the better.

In Iowa, Cruz successfully made the case Trump wasn’t a true conservative.  In South Carolina he might pull this off too.  After all, he’s a populist, not a Reaganite conservative.  Not a problem in the Granite State.  Reminders of Trump’s moderation may help with Independent voters.

There isn’t much Trump can do to prevent voters from rallying around Rubio if they want to abandon Jeb, Christie, or Kasich for him.  What The Donald can do is go all out to keep his support high enough that Rubio can’t quite catch him.  Going light in the debate risks leaving him within reach.


Marco Rubio

Get ready for Pile on Marco Night.  I’m convinced he’s been waiting for this with glee.  Somebody, maybe a candidate, maybe a moderator will ask him about Rick Santorum’s difficulty in identifying anything Rubio accomplished in the Senate.

It doesn’t sound good.  Way back in 1960, Dwight Eisenhower was asked to name an important contribution from Richard Nixon during his 8-year VP tenure.  Ike said he’d get back to them if they gave him a week.  This wasn’t that bad, but not helpful.  Both Christie and Bush have used a clip in ads.

Nixon was hurt that Eisenhower made the comment.  I somehow doubt Rubio feels similarly about Santorum’s slip.  Best of all, he knows it’s going to come up.  He also knows Christie’s comment about being the Boy in the Bubble will, likely from the governor himself.

Marco is better at fielding spontaneous questions than Christie gives him credit for, but of course, debate questions are normally foreseeable.  This plays to his strength.  Not only is he ready, but fending off attacks from multiple establishment-friendly candidates will help him with strong conservatives.

I’m assuming the Bobby Jindal endorsement was specifically timed to push back against governors claiming Rubio doesn’t have what it takes.

Cruz will probably attack him on amnesty.  Again, nothing Rubio hasn’t heard before and isn’t ready for.  Those duels are normally a draw.  He’s completely ready for his big night.

He just needs to avoid rushing his answers.  It’s a regular glitch for him, one that came up often in the last round.  Marco looks really comfortable on the stump.  Figure he’s more fluid in this debate.


Ted Cruz

He’s got a tough balance here.  Finishing respectably in New Hampshire would really help.  Though Rubio has surged, he’s not out of reach for Cruz just yet.  If he could best him twice in a row, it would put a real dent in Marco’s momentum.

The governors should wind up leaving Ted alone.  Rubio is their issue for now.  Does Ted worry about him, or focus more on Trump?  My thought is he is better served concentrating on The Donald.  If Cruz winds up in a one-one-one race with Rubio, he has a shot.  In order to make that happen, he needs Trump to implode in New Hampshire.

Many candidates have taken a shot at taking down The Donald.  Only Ted Cruz has actually bested him.  Plenty of solid conservatives want a non-Trump nominee.  It’s easier for Cruz to win their allegiance by hitting Trump than Rubio, who many of the same voters like.

Most importantly, Cruz actually does better when forced to react, rather than unspooling a prepared line.  Between Trump, Carson, Rubio, and moderators, he’ll take his share of incoming fire.  As long as he trusts himself to think on his feet and sound as authentic as possible, he should come out of this just fine.


John Kasich

For multiple weeks, Kasich has talked about an establishment lane, an outsider lane and a Kasich lane.  Not sure if that’s true, but he’s definitely charting his own course in New Hampshire.  At this point it’s serving him relatively well.  Though Rubio has moved past him in many polls, on average Kasich leads Jeb by a little and Christie by a lot.

He’s said he needs to be the story coming out of New Hampshire to continue in the race.  Finishing second would definitely qualify.  Not sure about a close third.  If Jeb makes the mistake of joining Christie in focusing on Rubio during the debate, it gives Kasich more space to make his case as the most effective governor, the one best equipped to move the country forward.

His best weapon is the national debt.  Kasich now brings a debt counter to his town hall meetings.  Surveys show this is not the issue it once was, but plenty of voters still worry about it, especially those who would consider voting for him.

Anyone who’s watched a debate has heard Kasich mention his role in balancing the federal budget back in the late Clinton years and how he turned Ohio’s deficit into a surplus.  Having built the foundation, time to look forward and talk in a detailed fashion about how he would stop the bleeding starting in 2017.


Jeb Bush

He’d really like to take down Rubio in New Hampshire.  The best way to ensure this is to avoid trying to take down Rubio during the debate.  Leave that to Christie who is on some sort of kamikaze mission.  If he gets asked a direct moderator question, by all means answer it directly.

Otherwise, his focus should be on making it clear that he’s the best governor available.  He should go ahead and wonk out to the best of his ability.  Jeb has improved noticeably in each of the last two debates.  He can probably afford an exchange with Trump now, with a chance of coming out ahead.

Mostly, he needs to give concrete reasons why he would do the best job serving as president.  Let others attack others.  Let Kasich explain why Republicans can’t say mean things and hope to win a general election, while Cruz says they can’t win if they run as mush.

Ignore and speak directly to the viewers.  He brought his mom to New Hampshire.  His brother cut an ad for him in South Carolina.  Might as well go all in on the legacy thing.  It is a distinguishing trait.  Especially if he can cite things he’s learned from his dad and brother that he should do and also things he shouldn’t.

Forget about Marco.  Forget about the indignity of having the student surpass the master.  Act like a commander-in-chief.  Don’t just say we need an experienced one.  Act like you already are one.


Chris Christie

He’s already blown it.  A combination of wasting too much time creating anti-Rubio sound bites and a spate of attack ads from Marco’s PAC and others have left him with more chance of finishing behind the uninvited Carly Fiorina than ahead of his gubernatorial peers.

Christie is truly good in town halls.  It doesn’t seem to matter.  Now he needs to ask himself what political future he envisions for himself and work to that end.  Does he want a cabinet department?  Does he want to rehabilitate himself in New Jersey with an eye to a Senate race?  Is that even possible?

Does he have interest in a VP nomination?  Is that even possible?  Who would he endorse when he drops out?  Tonight is the first night of the rest of his political career.  He should act accordingly.


Ben Carson

I’m assuming he’s pointing to South Carolina and ideally sticking around until March 1.  Aside from any grudge he may hold against Cruz, that’s the only reason to have remained in after Iowa.  He’s raised quite a bit of money over the past year (albeit very inefficiently).  Those hundreds of thousands of individual contributors deserve as good a run as he can muster.

Jeb probably thinks there’s actually a way he can win.  Between the PAC money and the Lindsey Graham endorsement, he’s duty bound to continue at least until South Carolina.  Carson knows there’s no path.  He’s staying in by choice.

His best approach, and what I think he’ll do, is use this as a platform to push back against the process itself.  It’s a conservative take on the message Bernie Sanders is succeeding with.  It provides justification for him to stick around and a reason for his supporters (and there are still plenty of them) to vote for him instead of Trump, Cruz, or someone else.

It also allows him to push back on Cruz and his tactics.  While I don’t think Ted did anything way beyond the pale in Iowa, he used political tactics to his advantage.  The stuff better done where it isn’t seen.  Carson is not a politician.  Cruz is a very good one.

Trump happily concedes he gets along well with Nancy Pelosi and has bought off all the insiders over the years.  The 10% of southern GOP voters still with Carson are willing to overlook his odds and foreign policy gaps.  Much like I advised Trump, do the Full Carson.


Carly Fiorina

As I pointed out yesterday, leaving her out of the debate is ridiculous and creates a needless issue.  This should enable Carly to get on multiple Sunday shows to talk about why this was wrong and why New Hampshire voters should show their displeasure on Tuesday.

She has spent her campaign money very carefully.  At her current burn rate, Fiorina can stick around longer.  At least one, maybe two or three candidates will exit after New Hampshire or South Carolina.  Just because there’s no nomination path doesn’t mean she has to go home quietly.

If past history is any indication, more candidates will ignore my advice than listen.  I’ll be back after the debate to note who followed, who didn’t and who was wiser than your correspondent.


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