With us now less than two days away from the first GOP debate, we really need to look at what the possible strategies are for the different candidates in the race.
Now, I’m not talking about Asa Hutchison or anyone like that. All of America suffers with him on the stage. Rather, I’m talking about the primary candidates that we know are serious candidates. People like Ron DeSantis, Tim, Scott, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, and some of the others.
What is the strategy for each of these candidates and how do they try to find a path forward, knowing full well that Donald Trump will be competing against them for an audience on Wednesday night and that he will show up at the Fulton County jail on Thursday to completely overshadow them the day after the debate? That’s a question that each of these candidates will be reviewing over the next couple of days (and very likely they have been for the last week or more).
Let’s start with Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis is going to be the top guy on the stage and so it’s very clear that he’s going to be the one taking the most barbs from other candidates. The other candidates are going to try to avoid talking about Donald Trump but they will not be able to avoid talking about each other. Each of the candidates is looking to make a name for themselves as the top challenger to Trump and the person who should become the nominee DeSantis being the number two guy in the race is obviously going to be their target. He’s the one they’ve got to take out in order to secure the spot as the biggest threat to Trump, so DeSantis is going to have to balance being aggressive on policy while also being aggressive on defense, he will have to exchange these bars with the other candidates, but he will have to do so in a way that doesn’t make him look like frankly an ass. DeSantis is very charismatic. He is smart. He has a handle on policy but he has to be able to take on attacks from his right as well as his left and that’s going to be the big challenge for the Desantis team come Wednesday night.
Tim Scott is the guy who has started appearing as the alternative to DeSantis. Scott is polling as the top second choice for a lot of Republicans in the primary, which means if one of the other top candidates falters like Trump or DeSantis (or if even somebody below Scott in the polls starts to falter), Scott’s gonna be the guy they go to next which bodes well for him and maze he has a lot of room to grow. However, one of Scott‘s biggest strengths is also one of his biggest weaknesses. He is a very kind, very compassionate man, and some voters do worry that Scott is not going to be tough enough and that he does not have the gravitas needed to be a strong candidate. He’s going to have to prove that he is capable of being a tough candidate, that he is capable of being hard on his opponents, and he’s going to have to show the world that he is ready to play in the big leagues.
Nikki Haley is in sort of a similar position but she also has to deal with the fact that she served in the Trump administration. She has to be able to differentiate herself from Trump the person and Trump the administration and be able to explain why she’s a better alternative than her former boss. Haley also will have to deal with the fact that not many people outside of her Fanbase are really taking her seriously right now in some political circle. She’s being seen as somebody who is running for a vice presidential seat, or for a cabinet seat using a presidential campaign. She has to prove that she is extremely serious in this fight as well.
Vivek Ramaswamy, meanwhile, currently is trending higher and higher nationally, but his numbers just aren’t there in state-level polling so he’s gotta be able to have a big moment on the stage Wednesday night to show the early states that he is a serious candidate that he is the natural successor to Donald Trump. With some oppo stories already being dumped against him. It’s clear that he is making some other candidates nervous. But another problem that Ramaswamy has is that he can say a lot of words on the stage, but not really make a whole lot of sense. Ramaswamy is very big on buzzwords and ideological catchphrases, but at the end of the day, there has not been a whole lot of substance to a lot of the things that he said on practical policy. And there’s also concern that some of what he said on foreign policy is actually not what conservatives are looking for (particularly when it comes to Israel and Taiwan). But, he’s very likely to double-down on it regardless.
Then there’s Mike Pence. Unfortunately, Mike Pence is taking his role as the counterpart to Trump almost too seriously, and he comes across as very dry and very boring. He’s going to have to find a way to be able to connect with primary voters who see him as running little more than a vengeance campaign against Donald Trump. He also really just has to generate some electricity because his current matter of speaking, and his current manner of engagement just is not very inspiring for average Republican voters.
And then there’s former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. Christie is engaging. He’s self-deprecating. And he is able to cut the legs out from under anybody that he goes up against in a debate. He’s a former federal prosecutor and he’s very good on the stage. He’s also very good at connecting with audiences, and there will be people who will be loathe to admit that they kind of found him entertaining when all is said and done. Christie’s biggest challenge is going to be to figure out who he needs to take out on the stage likely going to be Ron DeSantis because he in Desantis have been pulling, fairly close to each other in New Hampshire. As New, Hampshire is one of the early states if you can get enough momentum in the early stages that can carry your campaign quite a ways. So Kristi wants to be able to knock off DeSantis and maybe be able to pick up some momentum on his own and states where he’s not pulling very well right now.
As of right now, I expect that Christie, Scott, and Ramaswami will have pretty good nights. I’m not sure about Nikki Haley, but she can also connect with audiences. And as far as DeSantis goes, I think because of the fact that he’s been losing ground in polling he probably has the highest ceiling here. There’s a chance that DeSantis walks away from this debate stronger than ever because he puts on a great performance, but again he’s going to be everyone else’s target. Maybe he will pull off an exciting win, though.
But no matter who has a good debate, every candidate has to go out on Thursday and Friday and make as many headlines as they can about their debate performance, because Donald Trump will be dominating the headlines when he turns himself in to Fulton County.
And all of that is on purpose, too. Donald Trump wants to take the wind out of the sails of all the other candidates, so he’s going to usurp their big moment by having a big day on Thursday. The other candidates will have to jump out into the media and they will have to make some waves, pointing back to their debate performances.
Wednesday night is the first big test for any of these candidates. Now more than ever they need to show how serious they are.