Thursday, August 06, 2015

Tonight's Possible Bloodbath: A GOP Debate Guide

The first GOP presidential candidate debate takes place tonight and there is much speculation how this circus - or perhaps gladiatorial contest is more apt - will play out.  Between the huge ego's involved and the desperation on the part of some of the candidates to gain traction - momentum is a favored word - in the face of the Trump poll scores, in some ways, anything is possible.  If nothing else, the debates - there's the "children's debate" at 6:00PM before the main event at 9:00PM - should make for entertaining view as the full batshitery and misogyny is on open display.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at some of the areas of speculation.  Here are excerpts:
We all know that more people will be influenced by the narrative the press settles on: “Nixon looked sweaty,” “George H.W. Bush looked at his watch,” “Who’s Admiral Stockdale??”

So what are some likely narratives to keep an eye on? Glad you asked…

1. Which Donald Trump shows up? They used to say that half the people who paid to see a Muhammad Ali fight were paying to see him win; the other half were paying to see him get knocked out. Like Ali, Trump is a master showman who knows how to talk trash and gin up excitement (if only there were a “weigh-in” before the debate). And like Ali, all eyes will be on him. Half of us will be rooting for him to give them hell; the other half will be hoping he gets a bloody lip. But what if he doesn’t live up to the hype? Some recent interviews suggest that Trump might be about to (to borrow a phrase from Ali) “rope-a-dope” his opponents. . . . . It’s unclear whether or not Trump has the patience or inclination to pull that off. But he might.

2. Will the “kids table” be better than the “adult table”? Only the top 10 candidates will participate in the top-tier debate Thursday night. The rest will participate in a 6 p.m. ET debate. But it’s entirely possible that the narrative will be that the earlier debate was actually better. . . . What if the big debate turns into a mess (thanks to Donald Trump), but the first debate is conversely serious and high-minded? That’s actually not an unlikely scenario. There’s also the possibility that something said in the earlier debate will be so newsworthy that the moderators at the second debate have to mention it or ask a question about it. . . . it’s entirely possible that some of the candidates who are relegated to the “kiddy” table this time around will get promoted in a future debate.

3. Protests or interruptions. Presumably, security will be tight, but it’s possible the big story will be that someone interrupts the debate. This could be Code Pink or #BlackLivesMatter or some right-wing group. If that happens, the response—from the candidates, the police, and/or the moderators—will be under close scrutiny.

4. How does Jeb do? Let’s not forget that Jeb Bush is, in many ways, still considered the frontrunner (despite Trump’s poll numbers). This will be a huge test for him. Does he come across like the serious adult next to Trump? Or does he come across looking like a weak scold? Either option is entirely possible.  

5. Do the candidates go after Trump? Of course, it’s entirely possible Trump comes out throwing elbows and the debate descends into chaos . . . . Based on my reading of the debate rules, a candidate who is mentioned by name gets to respond. This is an important rule, because one assumes that “time of possession” (the amount of screen time each candidate receives) is a large factor in terms of his ability to “win” the debate .. . . .several of the candidates will have an incentive to pick a fight with Trump. The downside, of course, is that Trump might embarrass them. But the upside is there’s no better way to ensure your video clip gets played on a loop the next day than to tangle with Trump.

6. Unholy alliances? While it’s unrealistic to think that all the non-Trump candidates would conspire to refuse to take his bait, it is entirely possible that we will once again see some unofficial alliances emerge. Sometimes, debates create strange bedfellows.

7. Zingers? “I paid for this microphone!” “You’re no Jack Kennedy.” Every once in a while, someone rises to the occasion in a debate and lands a terrific sound bite—or even a knockout punch. The interesting thing is that there are numerous candidates who are capable of this. 

9. Gaffes? “You’re likable enough.” “Binders full of women.” There’s always the chance for someone to say something stupid.

12. Are the debates a net plus for Republicans? At some point, debates quit being like internal practice rounds and became public scrimmage games. The point of a primary debate might be to help select the party standard bearer, but it’s also a nationally broadcast “game” that will influence how viewers perceive the team. The RNC has taken special care to limit the number of debates and select appropriate media outlets to mitigate the damage that could be done by some ugly on-field behavior. But when the clock strikes 11 on Thursday night, will they be better off than they were two hours before?
I will naturally have a future post on my reactions.

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