USA TODAY US Edition
6 things to watch for in the GOP debate
Republican presidential candidates will enter Wednesday’s debate with at least one similar goal: Pull off a gamechanging performance that will challenge Donald Trump’s frontrunner status.
The latest USA TODAY GOP Power Rankings show Trump continues to sit atop the crowded field while Scott Walker is fading.
Eleven candidates will stand on the main stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, while four face off in an earlier undercard debate. Here are six things to watch for:
1 Any cracks in the Trump concrete
Will any candidate find the small crack that erodes momentum for Trump?
Republican strategist Kevin Madden said audiences walk away from these debates remembering candidates’ moments of strength or moments of weakness.
“What if Trump emerges from a gang tackle still holding the ball?” he said.
2 The 11th podium
The addition of Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP race, to the main stage could slow down any candidate on the Testosterone Express, conservative analysts said.
“Having ‘The Donald’ confront the female recipient of his recent insults on national television could be the most intriguing subplot of the second debate,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist.
3 The exclamation point
This isn’t a door-die debate for Jeb Bush, but he could benefit from controlling a news cycle, said Jeff Stein, an Iowa non-partisan political analyst.
“Jeb! needs to put an exclamation point behind his performance,” Stein said, referring to Bush’s campaign slogan, adding that “people are waiting to see that he can rally their hearts and minds.”
4 Ronald Reagan reaches
The GOP idol figures to be invoked frequently.
GOP pollster Frank Luntz said the location of this debate makes it ideal for putting pressure on Republicans who have made comments on immigration that are “diametrically opposed to Reagan.”
5 The Hugh Hewitt trip wire
Will anyone get tripped up in the foreign policy exam?
One of the questioners will be conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, and he has a reputation for tough policy questions, Luntz said. Trump has already laid the groundwork for a defense by complaining that Hewitt asks “gotcha questions.”
6 The prime-time musical chairs
Luntz predicted none of the 11 on the main stage will fall off the debate cliff, but the undercard debaters are in jeopardy.
If they aren’t in the top 10 for the next debate Oct. 28, Luntz said, “the networks have a legitimate reason not to do that second debate at all.”