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What To Look Out For In The Third GOP Debate

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What To Look Out For In The Third GOP Debate


Here we go again.

The engorged ensemble of Republican primary candidates will meet for their third televised smackdown (ahem, debate) Wednesday night in Boulder, Colorado.

As in the last two GOP debates this cycle, the network (CNBC this time) is dividing the circus into two acts: the mainstage show for the top ten candidates in the polls, and a kids’ table warmup act featuring the four candidates who, despite each polling at 1 percent or less, haven’t quit yet.

For the debate CNBC set a cutoff of a 2.5 percent average in national polls, presumably hoping that the field would be winnowed down. Instead, it failed to reshuffle the players; the also-rans are still also-rans, and the primetime guys (and Carly) are still in the spotlight.

Wednesday’s undercard debate (which will broadcast at 6 pm ET) might only be notable for indicating which Republican will be the next to fold. The second-stringers include former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, and former New York governor George Pataki. It’ll take a fiery performance – and maybe a stroke of deep, preternatural luck – to pull one of these guys into the big leagues.

The headliners’ debate (8 pm ET) will see all the usual suspects returning to their podiums — golf and wall enthusiast Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, U.S. senator Ted Cruz from Texas, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and Ohio governor John Kasich.

The revival is of course missing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who dropped out of the race last month, and encouraged his fellow candidates to do the same in order to focus on giving GOP primary voters a “positive conservative alternative” to Donald Trump.

The Minor-League Debate

Politico reported earlier this month that Bobby Jindal’s campaign was low on cash – not surprising for a sitting governor that is dreadfully unpopular in his home state.

Jindal, like most of the GOP field, has been spending his time campaigning in Iowa, which caucuses Feb. 1. He’s been very vocal about what he sees as a “mistake” by those organizing the debates, since they use national polling and not early state polls (mainly Iowa and New Hampshire) to determine who is slotted when. (Jindal is polling eighth in Iowa.)

Calling himself a “a full-spectrum conservative,” Jindal boasted to ABC News about his fight against Planned Parenthood and his plan to rid the country of Obamacare. He has also said that a government shutdown over whether or not to provide federal funding for Planned Parenthood would be squarely President Obama’s fault.

In stark contrast, George Pataki stands out in the current field precisely because of his moderate views on issues like gun control and abortion. Although he held his own in previous debates, it wasn’t enough to garner him much support.

Pataki has engendered some rather harsh skepticism. Nicole Hemmer at US News & World Report called him “a living museum piece” on account of the fact that his brand of Republicanism is not just out of step with today’s GOP – but the with GOP of the last 20 years. Of Pataki, one New Hampshire Republican told Politico: “The Spice Girls were big in the 1990s, too, but no one wants to see them on a reunion tour,”

He knows he’s a long shot  – he chuckled at the news of Jeb’s campaign cutting costs, since he had only a fraction of that windfall – but that doesn’t mean he can’t at least try for a bump or two in the polls.

Lindsey Graham recently expressed his exasperation and disbelief that he, a true Republican statesman, could be losing in the polls to Ben Carson and Donald Trump. “How am I losing to these people?” he said on Morning Joe.

But Graham, who is campaigning on the strength of his plan to fight ISIS, also doesn’t have much of a chance. He told the New York Times earlier this year that he finds campaigning “fun,” despite the slog it’s sometimes depicted as. He’s had a couple run-ins with Trump, but despite punching higher (or lower, depending on your view), he hasn’t gained much traction since he started.

And don’t forget about Rick Santorum, who is also gamely campaigning in Iowa, since that’s where you gotta be if you want to win. Santorum, who did well in the early stages of the 2012 presidential race, is often asked about why he’s still running. Trying to position himself as a champion of the middle class (a position many candidates, on both sides, are attempting to run on) he told The Daily Caller that, while he’ll bow out if he fails to gain traction as the campaign continues, “The game plan is to try to peak at the right time.”

“One of the things I learned four years ago is campaigns have a hard time strategically turning the tide of a race,” he said. “You have to sort of commit yourself to a game plan and realize you have to be patient to let itself work out.”

The Primetime Debate

Well it finally happened. Donald Trump is no longer on top. At least not unequivocally on top.

After enjoying a “yoooge” lead in the polls for months, Trump was dealt a little setback this week when a CBS/New York Times national poll found the bombastic tycoon trailing the mild-mannered retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson — 22 to 26 percent.

Carson may be leading Trump in one national poll, but in the crucial state of Iowa, he is beating Trump in virtually every poll, which makes sense given the sway the evangelical bloc has in the Hawkeye State. Trump has failed to credibly establish his Christian bona fides, which is not a problem for Carson — a Seventh-Day Adventist and creationist, who is opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest and whose tax plan is “based on tithing, because [he] think[s] God is a pretty fair guy.”

But reports of the demise of Trump’s campaign have been greatly exaggerated in the past. And, as we’re sure he will remind viewers, he is leading Carson by 10 points in two other national polls, but expect this dent in Donald’s streak to come up at the debate. Trump’s repertory is getting exhausted, but he’ll probably have some choice words for whoever brings up his poll numbers.

The candidacy of onetime frontrunner and GOP establishment favorite Jeb Bush is in dire straits, and Wednesday night may be a make-or-break moment. After Jeb’s anemic showing at the last GOP debate — he failed to get Trump to apologize for insulting his wife, then meekly shrugged it off before accepting a low-five from the then-frontrunner — it’s really all on the line.

His campaign is drastically tightening its belt, cutting staff and salaries in an apparent effort to hibernate through the currently unfriendly climate and make a resurgence in time for the caucuses. Jeb’s campaign conceded in a memo that “the contours of this race have changed from what was anticipated at the start.”

Maybe Wednesday is the night the Establishment learns it needs to cut Jeb lose if it wants any chance of beating Trump. They may have another hope in Jeb’s fellow Florida pol, Senator Marco Rubio, who has risen past Bush and is trailing only Carson and Trump in Iowa and national polls.

After Carly Fiorina’s dramatic — though factually loose — railing against Planned Parenthood and take-charge performance at the last debate, she saw a brief surge in the polls, but also increased scrutiny for both her disastrous tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the fact that the macabre images of abortion she described were not actually in the Planned Parenthood “sting” videos.

Compared to fellow political gatecrashers Trump and Carson, she’s just not as good at drawing media attention. Despite the widespread trumpeting that she had won September’s debate, she steps up to the podium on Wednesday night polling more or less where she was a month ago.

Pataki notwithstanding, John Kasich has settled into a little niche as the primary’s most credible moderate. (Okay, “moderate” may be stretching it. But the Ohio governor who expanded Medicaid in his state is practically a radical when you compare him to this crew.) Ever since his surprise edging out of Rick Perry (remember him?) for a top-ten podium spot in the first GOP debate, he has held on to a tenuous position as the grown-up in the room. And in the days leading up to the debate, he hasn’t been shy telling his fellow candidates how insane they and their policies are.

Watch the side fights, as Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz and #1 Kim Davis fan Mike Huckabee each tries to outdo the other in the social conservative front. Rand Paul and Chris Christie will resume their ongoing quarrel, which might be most succinctly summed up as a dispute over just how much the government ought to “get tough” — whether it pertains to domestic surveillance, drug policy, or military action abroad — pitting Paul’s libertarian, non-interventionist streak against Christie’s I-was-there-on-9/11-so-I-don’t-want-to-hear-about-the-Fourth-Amendment-and-also-I’m-coming-for-your-legal-marijuana platform.

And don’t forget — there are eight more Republican primary debates after this one. Pass the popcorn.

Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr (Although depicted, Scott Walker [upper L] is no longer in the race.)

The debates will air on CNBC Wednesday night at 6 pm and 8 pm ET.



  1. Independent1 October 28, 2015

    Keep the fun times rolling!!

  2. bcarreiro October 28, 2015

    America will be great again…When the 1 percent moves to China.

  3. John Murchison October 28, 2015

    Ahhh the thrills, chills and spills of the GOP debate. yum

  4. Dominick Vila October 28, 2015

    What look for? I am looking forward to a couple of hours of great entertainment by the largest and most capable field of clowns in history. Probably followed by concessions by substandard apprentices such as Jindal, Santorum, Huckabee, Christie, and a couple of others.

  5. The lucky one October 28, 2015

    If this was a horse race my wager would be looking good right now, I picked Rubio as the GOP candidate back when he was longshot and he is looking better and better. Not as a leader but as the GOP candidate.

    1. Robert Hodge October 29, 2015

      Yeah, but with the drought in California, he’d drink them all to death!

  6. jmprint October 28, 2015

    I think they should ALL drop out, who needs imposed obstruction.

  7. Aaron_of_Portsmouth October 28, 2015

    It’s a sure bet that NOTHING of substance and common-sense will be brought to light in however many debates these caricatures will have.

    Just to think—the amount of good money burned by all of them in a glib manner to show off one’s nearly total lack of insight regarding human affairs. We realize that the Donald has lots of money to burn(he has proudly told us how rich he is on numerous occasions, as though we don’t get it). But isn’t that a fool-hardy and irresponsible attitude towards the use of money??

    Just a thought.

    1. Independent1 October 28, 2015

      It would be good for many of the 1% to experience in China what the excesses of capitalism can do to a country. Virtually every major lake in China has become so polluted you can smell for miles before seeing them. And their industries are polluting the land even to the extent that vast expanses of China’s farmlands are now unfarmable. All because China has allowed its industrial complex to run amok just like the majority of the 1% who support the GOP are looking to do to America.

    2. Dominick Vila October 29, 2015

      I missed most of the debate, but what I saw did not impress me. Bush’s attack against Rubio, focused on his absentee record, backfired big time when Marco responded with a substantive explanation about what his candidacy is all about.
      Cruz’ attack on the moderator was predictable, and highlighted a tendency to distort facts.
      The most interesting part of the debate, for me, was Dr. Carson’s inability to explain his support for a 10% flat tax, which evolved into a 15% flat tax, and when his claim of a balanced budget at that rate was challenged, it was further amended with unspecified elimination of deductions.
      The truth is that with the exception of free entertainment, most of the GOP candidates running for the nomination of their party are empty suits with nothing of substance to offer, and little knowledge of issues of critical importance to the USA.

    3. Sand_Cat October 29, 2015

      That might be the best thing if the Democrats ultimately win: the extreme pleasure in realizing all the money a bunch of plutocrats blew for nothing.

  8. latebloomingrandma October 28, 2015

    I hope people who watched the Democratic debate watch this to see the differences in tone and content. Reality show vs discussion of the issues. I also hope they hit Carson with tough questions. I think Rachel will be one of the moderators. Hmmm. How will Trump react to her? The post debate may be more revealing.

  9. Buford2k11 October 28, 2015

    the only expectation I have, is maybe Bad Lip Reading will have their take on it in a week…otherwise it will be the same lies, falsehoods, more lies, and taint licking…

  10. paulyz October 28, 2015

    The Memo wants to discuss what to look out for in the Republican candidates but show Gov. Walker in the articles’ photo, when he droped out of the race seveal weeks ago. The Memo has already influenced the opinions of their followers by criticizing the 3rd. Debate before it even began. After listening to all of the Republicans discuss their solutions to our many problems, Americans would be in good hands with the majority of them, but definitely not by following the same failed policies of this administration by choosing any Democrat or Socialist Independent,.

    1. Robert Hodge October 29, 2015

      Har de har har….that’s hysterical! “Good hands”…. seriously. You must think we have AMNESIA or something. YOU forget the disaster that was the bushco debacle which Obama has wrestled with ever since, and a recalcitrant congress to boot! Kool-aid anyone?

    2. The lucky one October 29, 2015

      Really, you heard solutions being offered? All I heard was a lot of BS, bragging and childish bickering. The only one with any common sense, Kasich, hasn’t got a chance. Why, because he does have some common sense and that disqualifies him in the GOP.

      1. paulyz November 1, 2015

        Of course, after wasting half of the sham “debate” by CNBC trying to sabotage the candidates, we heard some of the solutions. What was really great about that backfiring though, was that MILLIONS of Americans got the opportunity to see the biased Liberal Media in OBVIOUS action, uniting the Conservatives on stage. Excellent! !

        Kasich is the definition of Establishment, as is Jeb Bush. They are also trying to help Rubio since the 2 I mentioned aren’t going anywhere.

        1. The lucky one November 1, 2015

          I agree about the “sham” debates but that includes all thus
          far televised. They are strictly entertainment, low brow at that. Do you seriously contend that Fox is any less biased than CNBC?

          “uniting the Conservatives on stage”??? First off they are neo-conservatives and what I saw more closely resembled a school yard dominance display than any sort of unification.

          I agree Kasich and Bush aren’t going anywhere but Rubio will likely be the GOP candidate. I’m curious what you mean by “phony lib”. Are you saying those posting liberal viewpoints are really conservatives trying to be ironic? Do you even know what you mean?

          1. paulyz November 1, 2015

            No, not libs trying to be conservative, Libs acting like they think Kasich is “ok”. The type of debates we need are by completely unbiased moderators from different networks, asking questions that most Americans care about to fix our terrible economy, especially after the last 7 years. Several are Conservatives, most aren’t, but the Democrat /Socialists are a disaster.

          2. The lucky one November 1, 2015

            I never said Kasich is “OK” only that he is more reality based than most of his cohort, admittedly that is not saying much. Unlikely we could ever find “unbiased moderators from different networks” given that most mainstream media has a
            strong pro-corporate bias apart from whether they lean left or right. They should be “asking questions that most Americans care about to fix our terrible economy”. I agree and it hasn’t happened at any debate so far including that hosted by Fox.

            News flash
            The economy was in the dumper and headed down before “the last 7 years”. The only candidate remotely resembling a socialist is Sanders and even he is very supportive of capitalism so none are socialist except in comparison to the
            tremendous shift to right in our society that has been ongoing since the Reagan years.

    3. Sand_Cat October 29, 2015

      Really? Should we laugh or cry that you really think “Americans would be in good hands with the majority of them”?
      Sorry, but I have to laugh (hysterically).


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