For the candidates tonight, there really is simply one goal: coverage. You get on a highlight reel for the right reasons and it raises your profile and your funding. You get on for the wrong reasons and you get negative attention and lost support.
All 17 of these candidates are more or less known quantities for their backers. Some are known quantities to the public. There will be two debates tonight so in a way, we have Varsity and we have JV.
Being on the JV squad is not such a bad thing. You only have six competitors, one hour instead of two, and an opportunity to shine in a smaller crowd. Someone is going to be declared the “winner” of that group. That is worth some coverage and some donations.
I expect Fiorina, Perry, Pataki, Graham, and Santorum to soak up the attention in the JV round. I make no prediction of winner, but I see those five as being most likely to say something that gets repeated, for various reasons.
In the main event, I can see almost anyone on a highlight reel (for good or bad) except Huckabee or Carson. I really don’t see them standing out. The rest are fully capable of ending up being quoted or misquoted for various reasons. In 2012, I think we saw each debate result in someone tanking and someone making headway, but overall Romney played it safe most of the time and simply let the others flame out.
I predict Trump will not play it safe. The question I have is whether more of what he says will elicit cheers or jeers, or maybe both. Overall, none of his opponents have toughed it out through the Presidential primary season to the end, so I expect some rookie mistakes.
Either way, I haven’t looked this forward to a debate since Reagan/Mondale… one of the very best debates ever for a comeback.
I want to see Christie and Trump going back and forth with Bush, but I think Bush’s advisers will push him to stay “above it all”.