The CNN sponsored Republican Presidential Debates are tonight at 8 pm at the Reagan Library, featuring 11 candidates. It could be a turning point for a number of candidates. This is what we believe will happen:
First of all, we predict a large audience, perhaps in the 16-20 million range, falling just short of the first debate. The Republican Party likely realizes they need to maintain the sizable audience, since it benefits all of the candidates not just Mr. Trump, who is largely responsible for drawing people in. They will encourage “showmanship.”
I’m predicting coordinated attacks against Trump in this debate. We have no insider information, but given the buzz from certain circles, many candidates would like to see a chink in Trump’s armor. Will be interesting to see where it comes from.
1) Donald Trump
We predict he will be understated and relaxed, keeping to the strategy and style that has kept him increasing in the polls. When provoked, Mr. Trump will counterpunch mostly in a good-natured way, but elevating as needed. He knows he has little to gain and much to lose by facing off against candidates who can’t possibly beat him. He may even give Rand Paul a break. Mr. Trumps “go to” moves will be a shrug and a smile, or a wise deliberative nod. If he can look “Presidential” he will gain points, however, we believe this debate will be break even for Trump (but he is still the leader…).
If the predicted coordinate attacks occur, much will depend on their nature. We know of no substantial issues with Trump at this point, but he has lived a long life and likely has some secrets. Any candidate who attacks could be on a suicide mission since Trump has shown he is capable of devastating quips that make the opponent look very small.
Trumps strongest move will be to act the frontrunner and be conciliatory with other candidates, perhaps even offering mild praise, making anyone who attacks him look like a jerk.. Would put him in a leadership role, and throw everyone else off their game…
2) Jeb Bush
Mr. Bush has something to prove here. Rather than biding his time and waiting a bit more to start spending his war chest, we believe he will attempt to strongly challenge Trump on issues. He will not stoop to name calling, not his game. I’m predicting this will be a bit awkward looking for Mr. Bush. The degree of awkwardness will determine how he does in the polls next week. He has a good team and will be well prepared, so we believe it will be a net win for him.
Mr. Bush will not be part of the anticipated coordinated attack against Trump, but may end up its primary beneficiary. Not saying it will be coordinated by his campaign, but if it happens his campaign will have known about it ahead of time.
3) Scott Walker
Mr. Walker will stick to the issues, make some very good points but gain very little in this debate. His new pronouncement of defeating America’s unions will be a the forefront of his rhetoric. If he looks smart enough (and he is very) in front of this huge audience it may be the boost he needs to kick his fundraising (already respectable at $20 million) into higher gear. It would be a mistake to trade barbs, it’s not his style, but for him to gain in the polls he must distinguish himself.
4) Ben Carson
Mr. Carson must be very careful here. He was very philosophical, witty and relaxed in the last debate. He must be the same tonight, but he has to present some substance on the issues to gain stature and credibility. Any inkling he is unprepared in the military, intelligence or foreign policy areas (where he has no experience, and perhaps is legitimately not prepared) will hurt him a lot. A significant gaff on one of these issues, especially if challenged in real time by at least two candidates, could put his campaign into a tailspin and he would be done.
He is on the rise, he needs to give this massive audience the warm fuzzies again. If he does well, he could close on Trump. But I’m predicting he will not do as well as last time.
5) Ted Cruz
Mr. Cruz is in the unique position of being a friend to Trump. We predict he will be overshadowed by Trump to a certain degree and will be consistent with his agenda to score with his base.
Things might get interesting if he attempts to help Trump by taking jabs at Jeb (nobody will dare make unprovoked attacks on Carson at this point). If he can draw Jeb into an exchange and embarrass him, then Jeb would be substantially damaged. It would make both candidates look bad but would improve Cruz’s chances to be a Vice Presidential candidate if Trump succeeds.
His net gain, if any, will be with people who already support him, which will help his fundraising but not his poll ratings right now.
6) Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio is in a pickle, on one hand he has to show he is Presidential, but on the other he must get attention. The fastest way to get attention is to attack Trump and win, but this is a substantial gamble. If he slows down his speech and appears deliberate and measured, he could improve his poll ratings, but not in a meteoric rise. He could conceivably be part of the coordinated attack against Trump predicted above. We are predicting at this point the debate will be a net loss for him.
7) Mike Huckabee
Governor Huckabee will be kind, honest and very Christian as always. He has yet to get the preachiness out of his voice, which will continue to limit his chances. He will trumpet his personal involvement in getting Kim Davis released (the Kentucky Clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples). No surprises, no substantial moves, no gains in the polls.
8) Rand Paul
Rand Paul’s only path to increased poll numbers is to appear presidential, attract attention without getting stepped on like he did last time. He needs strong rhetoric and tough interaction with other candidates but without malice. We predict he will attempt restraint and fail. He will attempt to be civil in his attacks against Trump and others. He could conceivably be part of the coordinated attack against Trump predicted above.
9) John Kasich
Kasich has a chance to shine and improve his position, but it will be difficult. We were expecting more of a presence in the election since the last debate but it has not materialized. He will need something special to increase his numbers radically, but we have no inkling what that might be.
10) Chris Christie
Mr. Christy will be loud and boisterous as always. With his personality, debates should be his forte. If he can avoid those nasty arguments like last time, he has a good chance of improving his position and perhaps gaining a foothold in the top five. We predict however he will not refrain from heated arguments, a strategy which could help him greatly or sink his campaign. In fact, he could conceivably be part of the coordinated attack against Trump predicted above.
11) Carly Fiorina
We believe Carly Fiorina will come out with fire and brimstone, will be exceedingly well prepared and if given a chance will outshine Trump. She has the most to gain, with the national spotlight of the primetime debate and audience. She is not doing that well in the polls at the moment, so no one has a reason to drag her down (plus, pardon my sexism, she is a lady on stage with a bunch of gentlemen…).
With the stir she caused the last time, all eyes will be on her. If she meets expectations, and we predict she will, she will get a major boost n polls and land major contributors. She may be the only one on stage who can challenge Trump and have a chance at not losing.
The key to cracking the top five is at some point to generate a certain confidence and indeed a euphoria about the candidate that must reach the mainstream. Trump did this easily in May/June. Rand Paul stole a bit of this from his father, but has lost much of it. Ben Carson generated it by being himself in front of 24 million people in the last debate. We predict Carly will do it this time. Chris Christy has a shot. Jeb will do it when he is ready.
The Early Debate
The earlier debate will not be as interesting as it was last time, the participants are Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham. Rick Perry suspended his campaign this week and Governor Jim Gilmore did not rate sufficiently well in the polls to be invited. We think from this group, Bobby Jindal will win, but without the audience it won’t help him.
We may watch the early debate, but really what is the point?
We will be sure to lend our judgement for first thing tomorrow, and will happily admit where we are wrong. So stay tuned!