Tonight at 9:00pm EST, the first of eleven Republican Presidential Candidate debates will be held in Cleveland, Ohio. With the use of current polling data to select only 10 of the 17 Republican candidates to participate, many voters are frustrated that their favorite candidate did not make the cut. Many experienced campaigners have pointed out the failure of polling data to determine who the actual front runners are and how the results in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have been dramatically different from the polls.
Not included in the top 10 were Carly Fiorina, Gov. Jim Gilmore, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Rick Santorum, and Gov. George Pataki. Fox News has invited these seven candidates to participate in what is being called a “Team-B” forum earlier on Thursday. Some think that it is a mistake for these candidates to accept the invitation because by doing so they are accepting the premise that they are second-tier candidates.
Only two people in the “Team-B” group belong in the top tier in my estimation, namely Carly Fiorina and Gov. Bobby Jindal. Repeatedly, I have been very impressed with Carly’s speaking skills and her ability to articulate the issues, therefore I don’t see her fizzling out early like many of the others will. Of the nine governors running, Bobby Jindal probably has the best conservative record, one that even beats the most popular conservative governor currently, Scott Walker. The more people know about Jindal, the more he will rise in the polls.
Now let us turn our attention toward the 10 candidates that will be taking the stage at 9:00pm tonight. Each of them have their own set of challenges and what I have attempted to outline below is what each candidate must do to win the debate.
Gov. Jeb Bush
His biggest advantage and his biggest handicap is his last name. The big government crony capitalist Republicans love him and have donated generously to his campaign. No doubt, Bush will be the best funded Republican candidate in the race. However the vast majority of the base don’t trust him and are actively engaged in an effort to unite behind one conservative to defeat him. In order for him to win this debate, Bush must win the trust of the Republican base. Unfortunately, he has probably already burnt that bridge.
Dr. Ben Carson
Carson’s biggest advantage is what I like to refer to as the “outsider factor,” which is held only by Carson, Fiorina, and Trump. He is a likable guy who hasn’t been in politics long enough to learn how to talk a lot without saying anything. Up to this point, Carson’s naiveté when it comes to many foreign and domestic political issues has been a problem for him. In order for him to win this debate, he must demonstrate an ability to talk knowledgeably and articulately about the issues on the table.
Gov. Chris Christie
In many ways, Christie has the same problem as Bush. Although he doesn’t come from an American political dynasty, he isn’t trusted by the Republican base. He talks a really good talk and, at one time, had the “Trump factor” because he told it like it was and didn’t sugar coat things. However, all that disappeared when he gave a watered down and pathetic speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention. If the hard-hitting, finger-waving, gutsy (no pun intended) Christie shows up tonight, he could win back some of the base. All he has to do is channel his “inner Trump.”
Sen. Ted Cruz
Not only will he probably be one of the smartest and most articulate debaters, he has this down-to-earth quality that voters look for. More often than not, voters will vote for the guy they would like to have a beer with, not necessarily the guy they agree with the most. More importantly, Cruz has a record to back up his rhetoric which is something that few of the other candidates have. I know many people to whom Cruz is their dream candidate, but they have yet to be convinced that he can win independents and voters who don’t normally vote Republican. To win the debate, Cruz must convince the audience that he can win in the general election.
Gov. Mike Huckabee
Like Rick Santorum, Huckabee is a favorite of the evangelical/social conservative base. Also like Santorum, he has very little support outside of that one portion of the Republican electorate. What he does have is the persona of a favorite uncle with a smiling, down-to-earth charm. In order to win the debate, he must demonstrate an ability to win all the other subgroups within the Republican Party as well as voters who do not have a record of voting Republican.
Gov. John Kasich
If you are like me, you are probably scratching your head trying to figure out why Kasich made the top 10 for this debate. Did half of the people polled live in Ohio? With such a large field of people who already have established national name recognition, Kasich has got to do something just short of extraordinary to set himself apart from the crowd of not just good candidates, but good governors. Polls indicate that most Republican voters want a nominee with executive experience, but in order to win just within that group, Kasich must put himself ahead of the eight other governors who are running. That is a task which, at the moment, seems virtually impossible.
Sen. Rand Paul
There is no disputing that Rand Paul has the lion’s share of the support from the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. However, from what I can tell, Rand has virtually no support from evangelicals, social conservatives, Tea Party conservatives, and especially the moderate wing of the party. Also, he has an age issue. I can count on one hand the number of people I know supporting Rand who are over the age of 40. Thats a big problem considering that the average age of the Republican Primary voter is about 65. In order to win this debate, Rand has to diversify his support base and make a strong case why conservatives who don’t identify themselves as libertarian should get behind him.
Sen. Marco Rubio
Although he has been in the U.S. Senate the same length of time as Rand Paul, and even longer than Ted Cruz, Rubio still seems to be too immature to be running for president. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with his age or his boyish face, but listening to him speak has not really inspired me or many people I know to think that he could handle the highest office in the land. Another issue is that, unlike most of the other candidates, he isn’t the standard barer for any one group or cause. In order for him to win the debate, he must convince people that he has the maturity to be President and that he is the champion for a particular cause or group.
For the moment, this is Trump’s race to lose. He is a dynamic combination of the outspoken Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, outsider Ben Carson, and his own entertainer personality. With Obama and his liberal allies intentionally destroying this country just as fast as they can and a Republican Congress barely tapping the breaks, the hard working, red blooded Americans are ready to explode in anger. As outlandish as some of the things he has said, Trump is channeling their rage against political ruling class of both political parties. Trump wins the debate tonight by not allowing a discussion about his past political stances and continuing to channel the bottled up rage inside so many Americans.
Gov. Scott Walker
Last, but far from least, we come to Gov. Scott Walker. He is one of the few that has captured the enthusiasm of both conservatives and moderates within the Republican Party. However many conservatives are still skeptical since Walker has seemingly been playing it safe on some of the more controversial social issues. Walker’s issue is not that people don’t think that he can win in a general election, but whether or not he is a “change agent” who will take on the Beltway Behemoth and whittle it down to size. If he can convince people in this debate that he is ready for a fight, not just with Democrats and liberals, but with the old guard, big government Republicans in Washington, he could be well on his way to victory.
Daniel Bradshaw is chairman of the Prince Edward County Republican Committee, having been elected in 2010 at the age of 18. He has worked as a Legislative Aide to State Sen. Tom Garret and has worked on several political campaigns including E.W. Jackson’s run for Lt. Governor in 2013. Bradshaw is currently owner and CEO of Appomattox River Landscapes, a property care and landscaping company he started in 2006.