It seems as if every pundit in America does a “Five Things to Watch For” story before Republican and Democratic presidential debates. Do those things actually happen? Sometimes. But sometimes not – stories after the debates often focus on unpredicted events, such as Carly Fiorina ripping Donald Trump for talking about her looks, or Bernie Sanders saying he’s tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
So we’re trying to subvert the genre. For Tuesday night’s GOP debate in Las Vegas here’s our take on Five Things That Should Happen But Probably Won’t. You don’t have to watch for them, so that pressure is off. Whew! Maybe they’ll give some context to what does happen, though. That’s our hope.
Donald Trump asks Ted Cruz about his tax plan. Yes, The Donald is widely expected to go after the senator from Texas, who’s creeping up behind him in Iowa polls. If that happens the slams are likely to be short, and personal. That’s Mr. Trump’s style. He’s already labeled Senator Cruz a “maniac” for his relations with fellow senators.
What we’d like to see instead is businessman Trump asking Cruz about his (Cruz’s) tax plan. Economists have noted that this plan eliminates business income taxes, but includes a version of a value-added tax, which hits products at many steps on their road to consumers. They’re widely used in Europe but companies aren’t fond of them. Does Trump think a US VAT a yuuuge mistake?
Lindsey Graham rushes the stage. Senator Graham is not invited to the main GOP debate. He’s relegated to the kiddie table debate, along with Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki. But he’s been both funny and substantive in past undercards. And at a recent appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Graham delivered something of a primal scream of the GOP establishment, hitting out at Trump’s tough rhetoric about undocumented immigrants, among other things.
So maybe he should just stand up in the audience and rush the stage to try and grab the mike and denounce whatever policies he thinks are hurting the party. He’s got little to lose, given he’s polling at less than 1 percent. And it would get lots of coverage.
Jeb Bush and Rand Paul talk about dads. Both Mr. Bush and Senator Paul are dangerously close to falling into irrelevance in the 2016 GOP race. Both also began with heavy expectations: Jeb Bush for obvious familial reasons; and Rand Paul for being Ron Paul’s son, and the “most interesting man in politics,” per Time Magazine.
Before they fall into the undercard it would be really interesting to hear these two scions talk about the burdens and joys of being the sons of successful politicians. What did they learn from them? What aspects of their legacy have they tried to escape? For Bush, this could be a way of sidestepping the issue of brother George W.’s presidency. For Paul, it could be a way to be interesting again.
Chris Christie steals somebody's podium. New Jersey Governor Christie has languished for much of the campaign, but recently he’s showed signs of life, particularly in the key early voting state of New Hampshire. He won the coveted endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, and he’s rising in state polls.
But he’s got to do something dramatic to get attention on the national stage and showcase his tough-guy image, which could play well at a time when terrorism has become a top voter concern. What better way than to just take somebody’s better-positioned podium during a commercial break, so he’s closer to the center and Donald Trump? He’ll be standing next to Jeb Bush, so there’s one target. Or he could cross over the stage and commandeer Ben Carson’s. That would put him in the top three.
Everybody thanks Wolf Blitzer. Usually the media is a target at Republican debates. Newt Gingrich ripped into moderators in 2012. Ted Cruz has done so this cycle. Come on – would it kill them, for once, to thank the mainstream media for providing them free exposure to voters? Most people thank hosts at parties, whether they had a good time or not. CNN veteran Blitzer is the anchor for Tuesday night’s debate. They could acknowledge his contributions on stage – then rip him afterward in the spin room, if they feel they must.