MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN -- Republican voters are in for another double feature this evening, as eleven GOP presidential contenders are set to debate on Fox Business Network. The opening act, starting at 7pm ET, features Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and "big kids table" cast-offs Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie. Lindsey Graham and George Pataki didn't make the cut at all. The relevant polling thresholds have been a source of controversy, of course, but at this stage of the campaign, the candidates have had amply opportunity to break through. Jindal and Christie can credibly argue that they've made important inroads in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, but the debate participation formula was based on national polling. The main event gets underway at 9pm. Here's how the stage will look:
A few storylines to keep an eye on tonight:
FBN vs. CNBC: The upstart rival to the established financial news channel has been hammering its competitor over their embarrassing performance in Boulder two weeks ago. The Fox Business moderators have spent the last few days vowing to press the candidates on real and substantive issues -- a less-than-subtle shot at CNBC's argumentative, controversy-stoking line of questioning. Will Fox deliver? They may be wise to "wonk out" a bit on economic policy, playing to their area of core competence and expertise. Fingers crossed for more "let's compare tax and Obamacare replacement plans," and less "please respond to what candidate X said about you."
Carson vs. Trump: It would be political malpractice for Ben Carson to pass up the opportunity to slam the shabby media treatment to which he's been subjected over the last week. "The media is smearing me" is pure gold in a Republican primary, almost literally. And his campaign knows it. Trump says he won't go after Carson unprovoked tonight, but he's already done so, very publicly. Noting Trump's knee-jerk instinct to join the media pile-on without all of the facts would also be smart politics from Carson. He's hit back at Trump's temperament and judgment already, but will he have the opportunity and gumption to do it to his face?
Jeb vs. Rubio: Round one of these political fisticuffs ended disastrously for Bush, the failed instigator of the spat. Jeb's campaign and allies have kept flogging away at the missed votes trope ever since, however, with the New York Times reporting that Jeb allies are prepared to drop $20 million attacking Rubio, whose campaign served up a preemptive strike in the form of a short ad compiling Bush's fulsome praise for his erstwhile protege:
After Rubio's financial disclosure over the weekend, Team Jeb may have less material to work with to paint the Senator as a "risky bet," but early indications suggest that they're gearing up to jab at Rubio on abortion...from the left. There's also this small issue:
Jeb suffered a blow in Boulder a few weeks back; he desperately needs a stand-out performance tonight. Can he "fix it"? And you know who'd love to see things get ugly between Jeb and Rubio while he floats above the fray and touts his tax plan? Ted Cruz. I'll leave you with a favorability snapshot from the latest WaPo/ABC News poll:
ABC/WaPo poll, all adults: Trump 38 fav 59 unfav; Carson 50 fav 32 unfav; Rubio 41 fav 37 unfav. https://t.co/9NempdaiNJ— Byron York (@ByronYork) November 10, 2015
UPDATE - Here are my exclusive, behind-the-scenes preview videos from inside the debate hall here in Milwaukee: