We are now less than 2 days from the first GOP Debate. It is important to consider the strategies of the various candidates.
Now, I am not referring to Asa Hutchison. All of America is suffering with him. Instead, I’m referring to the primary candidates who we know are serious contenders. Ron DeSantis and others like Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, and Chris Christie.
What is each candidate’s strategy and how are they trying to find a way forward knowing that Donald Trump is going to compete against them on Wednesday night for an audience and that he may show up in the Fulton County Jail on Thursday and completely overshadow them a day after the debate. This is a question each candidate will review over the next few days (and likely has done so for the past week or more).
Let’s begin with Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis will be the main guy on stage, so it is clear that other candidates are going to take the most jabs at him. They will try to avoid discussing Donald Trump, but they won’t be able to avoid talking to each other. DeSantis, the second-placed candidate in the race, is the one they are going to target. DeSantis will be the target to ensure that Trump is the greatest threat. He will need to strike a balance between being aggressive with policy and aggressive on defense. DeSantis has a lot of charisma. He is intelligent. He is smart.
Tim Scott has begun to appear as an alternative to DeSantis. Scott is the second-most popular choice of many Republicans. If one of the top candidates, such as Trump or DeSantis falters (or even if someone below Scott starts to falter in the polls), Scott will be the next candidate they turn to. This bodes well and means Scott has plenty of room to develop. Scott has many strengths, but he also has some weaknesses. Scott is a kind and compassionate man. Some voters worry that Scott will not be strong enough or that he lacks the gravitas to be a good candidate. He will have to prove to the world that not only is he capable of being tough, but that he can also be hard on his opponent.
Nikki Haley finds herself in a similar situation, but she has to also deal with the fact she was in the Trump Administration. She must be able to differentiate herself from Trump both as a person and the Trump administration and explain why she is a better option than her former employer. Haley will also have to deal with the fact that few people outside her Fanbase take her seriously in some political circles right now. She is being viewed as someone who is running to fill a vice-presidential seat or a cabinet position using a campaign for president. She must also prove to be very serious about this fight.
Vivek is currently trending up nationally but isn’t doing well in the state polls. He’ll need to be able to have a big moment Wednesday night on stage to prove to the early states that is is a serious contender and that he will be the natural successor to Donald Trump. Some oppo stories have already been thrown at him. He is clearly making other candidates nervous. Ramaswamy’s other problem is that, while he says a lot on stage, he doesn’t make much sense. Ramaswamy loves to use catchphrases and buzzwords but his practical policies are often lacking in substance. There’s also the concern that what he has said about foreign policy may not be what conservatives want (especially when it comes to Israel and Taiwan). He’s likely to continue on this path regardless.
Mike Pence is another option. Mike Pence takes his role as Trump’s counterpart almost too seriously and comes across as dry and boring. He will have to find some way to make a connection with the primary voters, who view him as little more than Donald Trump’s vengeance campaign. He must also generate some energy because his current way of speaking and engaging with voters is not inspiring.
Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey. Christie is engaging. He’s self-deprecating. He can cut off the legs of anyone he faces in a debate. He is a former federal prosecutor and he is very good on stage. He is also good at interacting with the audience, but some people will not want to admit it. Christie’s greatest challenge will be to decide who to put on stage. It is likely to be Ron DeSantis, as he and Desantis are pulling fairly close together in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a very early state, so if you get enough momentum early on in your campaign it can take you a long way. Kristi is hoping to beat DeSantis in states that he doesn’t do well.
Right now, I think Christie, Scott, and Ramaswami are going to have a good night. Nikki Haley is also a good performer. DeSantis, on the other hand, has the greatest ceiling because he is losing ground in the polls. DeSantis could walk away from the debate with a stronger performance than ever, but he will still be everyone’s target. He may pull off a thrilling win.
No matter how good the debate is, each candidate must go out Thursday and Friday to make as many headlines about their performance as possible, because Donald Trump, when he surrenders to Fulton County, will dominate headlines.
All of this is also on purpose. Donald Trump is trying to stifle the enthusiasm of the other candidates. He’s going to have a big Thursday to do this. Other candidates will need to get into the media and make some noise by referring back to their performance in debates.
The first test will be Wednesday night for all of these candidates. They need to be more serious than ever.