A Convention for the Ages
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First Debate - Pregame

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

We know who is going to be in the center ring for tonight's GOP debate. Let's take the candidates one-by-one and look at what I think they need to accomplish.


Here are candidates who made the cut (approximate percentages in parentheses):

Donald Trump (23) - Has to show he is more than a balloon-float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Has to show he has a level of solemnity necessary to be President. Will be pressed by the moderators to give concrete examples of his policy positions.

Jeb Bush (13) - Will have to explain his quote about women's health. He will likely be the target of his opponents - even more than Trump - because they can't get to Trump until they climb past Bush.

Scott Walker (11) - Is still a cypher to most Republicans. They sort of know that he beat back the public unions in Wisconsin, but they have no clear idea of who he is. Tonight his is chance to begin to establish the identity he wants to run with.

Mike Huckabee (7) - Has to show that this is more than a warmed over rerun of his 2008 race. He has to demonstrate he has a view of the future for America that resonates beyond Evangelicals.

Ben Carson (7) - For voters who are not closely watching, he has all but disappeared from view since the advent of the Age of Trump. He has to show why a pediatric surgeon - no matter how persuasive a talker - has qualifications to be President.

Ted Cruz (6) - Has to show he is more than "Trump Lite" and has the capacity to govern, not just the capacity to stop government from functioning.

Marco Rubio (5) - Has slipped from the "First Tier" of candidates and needs to relight the fire that put him among the leaders in the first place.


Rand Paul (5) - Has, along with Rubio, slipped from the upper echelons of the race. "Process stories" about his staff and fundraising problems have dogged him the last few weeks. Has to remind voters what they liked about him last Winter and Spring.

Chris Christie (3) - In December, Christie was less than two percentage points behind Jeb Bush (13.3 - 11.5). He has not worn well over the past eight months and needs to convince GOP voters that he is a straight talker (like Trump) but with the advantage of being a sitting Governor (NJ).

John Kasich (3) - Got in late, but still made the main stage for the debate (bumping Rick Perry in the process). Has the opportunity to demonstrate the value of his resume (Budget Chair of the U.S. House, sitting Governor of Ohio, TV Host) to the issue of who can beat Hillary Clinton.

Among those who didn't make the cut to be in the prime time debate, Rick Perry is the biggest loser. It would have been his opportunity to blur - if not erase - the "Oops" debate from the minds of what will likely be a huge audience, at least for the first hour.

His team made the strategic decision to get into the news cycle by attacking Trump in a speech about a week ago. It was a legit choice and did, in fact, get him into the news but didn't move the needle in terms of support among poll respondents.

There is a saying among professional golfers that goes something like: "It's not how many strokes you are behind the leader, it's how many golfer are ahead of you." The point being if you are five strokes behind and in second place on Sunday, the leader might have a bad day and you can tear up the course.


But, if there are eight guys between you and the leader, the chances of all of them having a bad day is just about nil.

Same thing goes for the other candidates who didn't make the big debate show.

At some point Bobby Jindal's backers are going to have to tell him that this is not ever going to happen. He's been running since, it seems, just after the War of 1812 and has not made a dent.

Jim Gilmore, who just got into the race, has to show why he believes America is whispering his name.

Lindsey Graham will likely stay in until the South Carolina primary and might - like Joe Biden eight years ago - look like a great choice for Veep given his foreign policy creds.

Carly Fiorina does very well in TV interviews, and appears to be popular on the stump but may need to upgrade her staff to a group that understands how to translate those traits into wider support.

George Pataki was a first rate Governor of New York but, like Gilmore, has to show why he believes he can get to the brass ring.

Rick Santorum is the only person in America who thinks he can win the nomination.

Get out the popcorn and Raisinets and let's see what happens.


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