And so it begins. The moment everyone, it seems, has been waiting for.
Seven Republican presidential candidates will debate one another from the historic city of Cleveland, OH in just a few hours. Not unexpectedly, as the first official contest of the 2016 cycle, the ratings are projected to be huge. (Although, in fairness, I suspect the ‘kids table’ debate will garner markedly less interest than the Donald Trump Show). Nevertheless, Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Gov. George Pataki, Gov. Jim Gilmore, Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina will all trade barbs — and fight for airtime — in front of a live national television audience. Millions of Americans will be tuning it. One of the moderators, Bret Baier, has already said he's been preparing questions “for some time now,” and thus hopes the debate will be entertaining and substantive. Let's hope it's also instructive.
So with that in mind, the following are a few thoughts I had about each candidate before they reintroduce themselves again to voters tonight.
-- Rick Perry seemed on the cusp of meriting an invitation to the main event. He didn’t, of course, but perhaps that isn’t the end of the world. Maybe now he’ll be able to shine with (a) fewer candidates on stage and (b) with less pressure on him to perform well. We’ll see.
-- Rick Santorum needs to start siphoning support from other social conservatives. And fast. He can start doing that tonight. Of course, he’s polling nowhere near where he wants to be. But a big night tonight could be a game-changer for the 2012 Iowa Caucuses winner, especially if Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz turn in lackluster performances later in the evening.
-- Bobby Jindal hasn’t really made much of splash since announcing his candidacy. He’s running for president, of course, but polls suggest he’s somewhat invisible to voters. The pressure therefore is very much on him to do well. If he doesn’t, perhaps it will be even more difficult for him to explain to the press why he’s running in the first place.
-- Lindsey Graham is a foreign policy hawk and this plays to his advantage. The Iran deal is the most polarizing issue in Washington. Meanwhile, attacking the Obama/Clinton foreign policy is where he shines. So a few good sound bites on the current administration could serve him well. Perhaps it would even move the needle.
-- Carly Fiorina is a rising star in the Republican Party. She’s proven that in interview after interview. Her attacks on Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood are especially popular among conservatives. But the big question is whether or not she can tailor her message in such a different setting. After all, how much experience does she have debating on the national stage? Does she have any at all? That being said, I suspect she is a crowd favorite — and the viewers want to see her do well. Will she?
-- George Pataki is a moderate, pro-choice Republican. For these reasons — and many others — his chances of winning the nomination are basically zero. Nevertheless, he will be on stage and competing all the same. It will, however, be interesting to see if his rivals use him as a foil to burnish their conservative credentials. In a way, he sticks out like a sore thumb.
-- Jim Gilmore needs viewers to leave the debate tonight knowing what he looks like — and what he stands for. For my part, I haven't a clue.
In any case, we will have live, team coverage all night after the debates start. So be sure to follow along with us as the festivities commence. The first debate starts at 5:00 PM EST.