After what turned out to be a relatively calm first debate last month, the Republican Party will gather their candidates for President of the United States together again tonight for a debate. The second GOP debate will begin at 6PM on CNN with the undercard – the four competitors, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal; former New York Governor George Pataki and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (two of their brethren, former Texas Governor Rick Perry (has ended his campaign) and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore (nonexistent in the polls) have already been excluded from the debate) who couldn’t build up enough support to crack low single digits – will be featured in this showdown at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA. While some points may be scored here, the attention of the 500 or so people who will be in attendance will more than likely be on the “Main Event” that begins at 8PM (Eastern Time).
The main field is now expanded to 11 participants, with former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina the only candidate who came out of the “Happy Hour” debate in Cleveland improving on her support and earning her way onto the main stage. Even with the addition of Fiorina, the leader has stayed constant: Donald Trump, despite pissing off and insulting pretty much the entirety of the human race with a brain, continues to lead the Republican parade. What has made it interesting is that the second place candidate has changed and it isn’t one of the “usual suspects.”
Coming off a notable debate performance in Cleveland, Dr. Ben Carson has been able to pull his way up to second in some polls and at least in the Top Five in others. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be beside Trump also, putting two “low energy” opponents (Trump’s words, not mine) on each of the New York billionaire’s hands. The difference this time around is that both of those hands are in danger of being gnawed off.
Unlike the first debate, this one is going to be a free-for-all. In the first debate, the novelty of a Trump campaign hadn’t worn off yet for the other nine competitors as they, for the most part (save for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul), stayed away from Trump, expecting to see him crash and burn on his own. Not to say that Trump didn’t try, making a point as the only candidate at that time who would not pledge support of the eventual GOP nominee and/or swear off a third-party run (he has since signed a “loyalty pledge” which will be about as binding as the toilet paper in Trump Tower) before then insulting Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly during and after the event. Another month into the campaign – and with polling and favorability numbers for Trump that are going up instead of down – and the rest of the GOP has finally come to the realization that they have to take him out.
Jindal has basically said that Trump is a “madman” who will do irreparable damage to the conservative cause and perhaps even end the Republican Party. “It’s pointless arguing policy with someone not intellectually curious enough to care and who makes it up on the fly,” Jindal wrote in an op/ed on CNN. “According to him, his plans will be ‘fabulous’ and ‘something terrific.’” With his own polling numbers around 1%, Jindal has seemingly taken on the sword of taking Trump down (and he may have some backup in Graham). The problem is these men are on the “kiddie table” while Trump plays on the Grand Stage; the only way that anyone from the early debate will be able to touch Trump is with a trebuchet.
So who will it be on the stage in front of President Reagan’s Air Force One (if you haven’t already seen the stage for the CNN debate, it is a feat of engineering that has the 747 right behind the candidates – a feat that required set designers to build a 30 foot scaffolding for the stage itself) that tries to take down Trump? How about everyone?
The moderators for the debate, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, have already said they want the debate to take on more of a donnybrook look than a genteel tea party. “My goal is more about: Let’s draw the contrasts between the candidates, and have them fight it out over these policies, over who has the best approach to Putin, over who has the best approach to taxes, over who believes what over immigration reform,” Tapper stated to the New York Times on Tuesday. “Have them lay it all out so voters can see it.”
Paul has already stated he will come at Trump with every weapon he has available, telling CNN that Trump is a “fake conservative” who won’t be able to handle the job of the Presidency. “Do we really want someone in charge of our nuclear arsenal who goes around basically using the insults of a junior high, or a sophomore in high school?” said Paul during a CNN interview. “That’s not the kind of person we want to be practicing the diplomacy of the United States.”
What about the other candidates? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich have been non-committal on what their approach to Trump will be, but if any of them are to last much longer than Iowa and New Hampshire, their time is now to make a move and attack the frontrunner(s). Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose lips have been locked on Trump’s ass for so long it may take Ben Carson’s surgical talents to remove him, won’t be looking to harass Trump as he hopes to take his supporters if, and or when Trump decides he’s had enough of the campaign. For their part, Bush and Carson have also said they aren’t looking to attack “anyone” in particular, but you can be sure that if the opportunity arises they’ll be looking to cut their own pound of flesh out of Trump.
As it has been since he entered the race, it could be Trump who is the key as to what this debate may turn out to be, a bloodbath or a policy discussion. If the Trump that comes out on stage on Wednesday night is the same boorish, misogynistic, xenophobic, arrogant ass that has been running around the United States for the last two months, then the other 10 competitors on the stage are going to carve him up. Yes, Trump is an excellent counter-puncher, but there isn’t a counterpunch to a death by 1000 cuts. If you’re constantly on the defensive – and if you even show a glimpse that you’re thin-skinned, you’re over with – you’re not going to be taken seriously.
On the other hand, if Trump comes out and talks halfway intelligently about issues – discusses SERIOUSLY where the money will come from to build the wall across the border between Mexico and the U. S. and not the half-cocked plan of having Mexico pay for it; offers a plan for the humane treatment of immigrants here illegally to return them to their home countries (or offer them a form of amnesty, an anathematic word to conservatives); give a few details as to his taxation plans (once again, Trump sees nothing wrong with the wealthy and businesses paying “their fair share,” another policy point that whips the GOP into a horrified frenzy) – then his opponents will have no opportunity to go at him except on a policy level. Instead of attacking his general personality, now the other GOP candidates would have to pick apart details of his suggested plans and probably have to stake themselves to something they might not want to do with their own plans at this point. Trump has to be careful here because as soon as he strays from policy into any sort of “insult campaigning” (which has been his creation for political scientists to dissect in the future), the floodgates open and the attacks will fly.
So what is going to happen in the sacred grounds of the Reagan Library? It’s going to be a bloodbath. Simply because he is either too proud or has too big an ego, Trump isn’t going to be able to hold back his personal attacks on his opponents and, as such, the other 10 players in the game are going to descend on him like a pack of hyenas. The hyenas may not kill the wildebeest quickly on Wednesday night, but it will mark the beginning of the end as they will, while getting their fangs and claws bloodied, rip apart any thought that Trump could actually have a solid plan to lead the nation. (I wonder what the odds are of an expletive making it out over the CNN airwaves is.)
It’ll all go down later tonight and will probably be more entertaining that boxing champion Floyd Mayweather’s fight was last weekend. The two debates – the “kiddie table” at 6PM and the “Main Event” at 8PM – promise to be high theater for all involved. Unfortunately, it will also show the worst of what is the U. S. political process in a mudslinging debacle instead of a discussion of ideas and opinions.