Repub­li­can Party faces un­cer­tainty in cam­paign for the White House

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY JULIE PACE AND STEVE PEO­PLES

Amer­i­can’s op­po­si­tion Repub­li­cans are steel­ing them­selves for a long pe­riod of un­cer­tainty fol­low­ing a rau­cous first de­bate of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and more caus­tic com­ments from early fron­trun­ner Don­ald Trump.

There are no signs that Thurs­day’s de­bate will win­now their wide-open field any­time soon.

It wasn’t sup­posed to be this way.

Be­fore the cam­paign got un­der way, Repub­li­can Party lead­ers de­vel­oped a stream­lined set of de­bates and a nom­i­na­tion cal­en­dar that aimed to avoid a messy fight.

But few en­vi­sioned a field of 17 can­di­dates, the ex­plo­sion of out­side money that ap­pears ready to keep sec­ond-tier can­di­dates flush with cash, and the quick rise of Trump.

Ri­val camps do not ex­pect Trump to be a se­ri­ous con­tender for the nom­i­na­tion when the state- by- state pri­mary con­tests start early next year. But they also can­not pre­dict what might drive him from the race.

Trump’s Mis­steps Pile Up

So far, he has proved to be im­mune from what would be viewed as mis­steps by any other can­di­date. But those mis­steps are piling up.

Trump was dis­in­vited from a prom­i­nent con­ser­va­tive fo­rum Satur­day in At­lanta be­cause of dis­parag­ing com­ments he made about Megyn Kelly, the Fox News mod­er­a­tor who had asked him tough ques­tions in the de­bate.

For now, Trump’s un­ex­pected sum­mer surge has vaulted him to front- run­ner sta­tus. It will be sev­eral days be­fore public poll- ing shows whether he was dam­aged by his caus­tic de­bate com­ments about women and re­fusal to rule out a third- party run.

“I don’t think we have to have to­tal clar­ity,” said Reince Priebus, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man. “I think clar­ity is bor­ing. I think what we have right now is some ex­cite­ment, in­trigue, and that’s great, as long as you can con­tain it.”

He said “con­tain­ment means jabs and a few el­bows are great, but I think be­yond that it can be prob­lem­atic.”

Most Repub­li­can strate­gists ex­pect lit­tle shake-up in the rest of the field be­fore the sec­ond de­bate next month.

“The elec­torate is go­ing to take time to think through this,” said David Win­ston, a Repub­li­can poll­ster. “So I think ev­ery­body else is go­ing to have to have pa­tience.”

For­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker, the two can­di­dates clos­est to Trump in early polls, es­caped the first de­bate with­out dam­age, but also with­out any break­through mo­ments.

Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich cap­i­tal­ized on a home-state crowd at the Cleve­land de­bate to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions with an up­beat and op­ti­mistic per­for­mance. Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio was praised for a sub­stan­tive show­ing.

Big­gest Non-sports Ca­ble

Broad­cast

The can­di­dates made their case be­fore a prime-time tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of 24 mil­lion peo­ple, mak­ing the de­bate the big­gest non­sports ca­ble broad­cast in history.

Dur­ing the tu­mul­tuous 2012 Repub­li­can pri­mary, a se­ries of 13 de­bates be­fore the kick­off Iowa cau­cuses kept the race in flux through its early months.

Four years later, party lead­ers have cut in half the to­tal num­ber of ap­proved de­bates — just six be­fore the Iowa cau­cuses in Fe­bru­ary.

So fewer de­bate chances for break­out mo­ments or dis­qual­i­fy­ing stum­bles. On top of that, Iowa can­celed its famed sum­mer straw poll — a death knell for can­di­dates in the past.

The growth of su­per po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees, which can col­lect un­lim­ited do­na­tions, means fewer can­di­dates are at risk of hav­ing to shut down be­cause they are out of money.

“At this point in past cy­cles, there would be death watch cov­er­age of a cou­ple of the can­di­dates,” said Fer­gus Cullen, the for­mer New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can party chair­man. “That’s not go­ing to hap­pen this time.”

Bush main­tains a mas­sive fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage over his ri­vals, hav­ing raised more than US$114 mil­lion in the first half of the year be­tween his cam­paign and su­per PAC. De­spite that haul and his po­lit­i­cal pedi­gree, he has not bro­ken away from the pack as some thought he might.

Bush al­lies pri­vately con­cede he un­der­per­formed in the de­bate. He ap­peared even-keeled but un­re­mark­able amid Trump’s fire­works and showed signs of nerves in the open­ing mo­ments of his first de­bate in more than a decade.

Sug­gest­ing many vot­ers still do not know Bush well, the son and brother of for­mer pres­i­dents will de­vote much of the sum­mer to high­light­ing his ac­com­plish­ments while gover­nor of Florida, said cam­paign spokesman Tim Miller.

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