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Horowitz: 5 Things to Watch at Tomorrow Night’s Republican Presidential Debate

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

 

Rob Horowitz

Here are five things to watch for at the 2nd Republican Presidential Candidates debate to be televised on CNN tomorrow night:

1) Bush attacking Trump: Departing from his initial strategy of attempting to ignore Trump, over the past several weeks, Jeb Bush has launched a series of tough attacks on the now acknowledged front-runner. He will likely pick a couple of spots to do this during the debate.  These moments—if they occur--will receive wide and repeated news coverage post-debate.

2)The interaction between Trump and Hugh Hewitt: Syndicated conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt who some call ‘the thinking man’s Rush Limbaugh” will be one of the debate moderators. Earlier this month, he tripped up Donald Trump with the kind of factual foreign policy questions he asks all the candidates who come on his program. Trump confused  the Iranian“Quds” force with the Kurds, demonstrating in the process that he had no idea who the long time head of the Kuds Force, General Soleimani , was. In typical Trump fashion he attacked Hewitt after the interview, calling him a "3rd rate radio announcer."  As a result,  media will pay special attention to any interaction between Trump and Hewitt.

3)Carly Fiorina and High Expections: Carly Fiorina is the one candidate who will be in the main debate tomorrow night, who was not on the big prime time stage in the first debate. She propelled herself into the main event mainly by her excellent debate performance in the 5:00 PM so-called kids table debate on FOX, which featured all the candidates who were not among the top 10 in an average of national polls.  As the only woman , the only new candidate, and as someone who was recently attacked by Donald Trump for her appearance, all eyes will be on her. If she meets the high expectations she has created by her earlier superb performance, it is a big opportunity for her to continue her upward climb.

4) Ben Carson and Tougher Questions: Since the first debate, Ben Carson has moved into second place in the national horse race and is within striking distance of Donald Trump in Iowa, the location of the first contest. As a result, he is likely to get tougher, more policy specific questions—more difficult questions than he was asked by the FOX moderators at the first debate. Let’s watch how he handles them.

5)The Gap Between Polling on the Horserace and Debate Winners and Losers: Research shows that the main effect of debates is to reinforce existing candidate preferences.  If you support a candidate going into the debate, you are likely to think that particular candidate won the debate.  So to measure true debate impacts, it is important to compare the post-debate polls asking Republican primary voters, who won or lost with candidates’ current standing in national polling. In other words, if 18% of voters believe Donald Trump won the debate, since that is well below the 30% or so of primary voters who now indicate their support for him, even if more people think he won than any of the other candidates it is still not a good night for him.  To gauge who is likely to benefit the most from their performance tomorrow night, look for the candidates whose performance as measured by the post-debate polls substantially exceeds their current percentage of the vote.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island

 

Related Slideshow: The 2016 President Candidates Ranked by Absurdity

InsideGov ranked the levels of absurdity for each candidate by these four criteria:

  • A consistently low 2015 polling average: consistently low poll numbers make campaigns more superfluous, and thus, more absurd
  • Extreme ideologies: candidates with extreme views—whether way to the left or way to the right—tend to be less viable, and thus, more ridiculous
  • Little-to-no years of elected office or active-duty military experience: inexperienced and unproven, these candidates are more prone to absurdity
  • Multiple attempts at the presidency: the more attempts, the less serious the candidate becomes

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#21

Candidate: Scott Walker 

Absurdity Index: 37.1 (very low)

What InsideGov said

He might be the most boring candidate in the race, but he’s also the least ridiculous. The Governor of Wisconsin has 22 years of elected experience and consistently solid polling numbers for 2016.

While he leans more conservative than average, he takes few truly extreme positions. He’s the most reasonable candidate in the entire field, by InsideGov’s metrics.

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#20

Candidate: Martin O'Malley

Absurdity Index: 39.4

What InsideGov said

By InsideGov’s calculations, the former Governor of Maryland is the most moderate Democrat in the field, and among the five most moderate candidates overall.

Even if he never gains traction against the mighty Clinton machine, we can expect O’Malley to add a measured, level-headed perspective to the Democratic primaries.

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#19

Candidate: Chris Christie

Absurdity Index: 39.7

What InsideGov said

While the Governor of New Jersey gets a bad rap for his bluster and blunt statements, the data suggests he’s one of the more reasonable candidates, on the whole. He’s moderate across almost every issue, and he's still alive in the polls.

“Bridgegate” might ultimately doom him, but his decision not to run for president in 2012 was classic, sensible Christie.

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#18

Candidate: Hillary Clinton

Absurdity Index: 40.6

What InsideGov said

Clinton scores a few absurdity points across several categories: she’s only served eight years of elected office*, has run for president before, and is more liberal than all but one competitor. Still, her historically dominant position in the polls (nearly 50 points above her nearest challenger) means we have to take the former New York Senator seriously. In the position she’s in, it would be ridiculous for hernot to run.

*For our purposes, her terms as First Lady and Secretary of State do not count toward her total, because she was not elected to those positions.

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#17

Candidate: Jeb Bush

Absurdity Index: 40.8

What InsideGov said

Some might say that three Bushes in three decades is absurd, but by our numbers, Jeb Bush is among the most sensible of the candidates. He consistently polls at the top of the GOP field, holds more moderate positions than most of his opponents and seems to have waited for the perfect time to run.

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#16

Candidate: Lincoln Chafee

Absurdity Index: 43.0

What InsideGov said

The recent Democratic Party-convert holds moderate views and boasts 24 years of elected experience—enough to make him a logical candidate for the 2016 race. Only his extremely low polling numbers, which suggest that his candidacy will be irrelevant, bump him a few spots up this list.

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#15

Candidate: Bernie Sanders

Absurdity Index: 43.5

What InsideGov said

The most liberal candidate in the field, Bernie Sanders will likely add a far-left voice to the Democratic primaries. That said, his decent polling numbers and 34 years of elected experience suggest he deserves to be in the conversation, regardless of his ideology.

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#14

Candidate: Marco Rubio

Absurdity Index: 45.2

What InsideGov said: 

The Tea Party star turned respected Florida Senator boasts 15 years of experience and a solid polling average. Rubio’s sole weakness might be his strong conservative streak, which will make him less palatable in the general election. Only Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz hold viewpoints further to the right.

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#13

Candidate: Lindsey Graham

Absurdity Index: 45.8

What InsideGov said

The South Carolina Senator has all the experience you’d ever want in a president: 22 years of elected service, another dozen of active-duty military service. Still, Graham’s abysmal polling numbers suggest he has no business in an already crowded field.

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#12

Candidate: Jim Webb

Absurdity Index: 45.8

What InsideGov said

Similar to Graham, Jim Webb brings a combination of government and military service to the table, an attractive résumé that would seem to appeal to liberal and conservative voters alike. And while he doesn’t have quite as much total experience as Graham, Webb’s moderate ideology scores would make him a compelling general election contender. That said, Webb is so far behind Clinton in the polls that his candidacy likely won't last.

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#11

Candidate: Rick Perry

Absurdity Index: 47.0

What InsideGov said

Though he leans more conservative than the average GOP candidate, Rick Perry’s 35 years of elected experience—including 15 as the Governor of Texas—make Perry an immediate contender. He’ll just need to escape the shadow of his failed 2012 run, where debate gaffes unraveled an otherwise promising campaign.

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#10

Candidate: John Kasich

Absurdity Index: 47.3

What InsideGov said

The Governor of Ohio has over two decades of experience and a balanced mix of viewpoints that could appeal to national voters. For now, only a low polling average brings Kasich down. Given that the governor hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, Kasich could quickly find himself moving down the Absurdity Index and into a short list of contenders.

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#9

Candidate: Rand Paul 

Absurdity Index: 48.8

What InsideGov said

While he’s relatively new to the game (particularly compared to his father, Ron Paul), Paul’s Libertarian leanings will likely help the Kentucky Senator win over a small subset of American voters. His bigger problem will be garnering support from traditional Democrats or Republicans—each of which will have fundamental disagreements with his platform.

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#8

Candidate: George Pataki

Absurdity Index: 49.8

What InsideGov said

The former Governor of New York is, by InsideGov’s count, the last of the semi-viable 2016 candidates. His polling is currently in the gutter, but his moderate views, 25 years of experience and record as a GOP governor in a liberal state all contribute to a well-rounded presidential candidate. He just needs voters to pay attention.

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#7

Candidate: Mike Huckabee

Absurdity Index: 52.2

What InsideGov said

Part pastor, part politician and part Fox News personality, Mike Huckabee has done a little bit of everything—past positions that will help him appeal to a loyal base of Evangelical voters.

For mainstream voters, however, Huckabee’s revolving door of professions, overemphasis on religious values and lack of foreign policy bonafides make him unfit for office.

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#6

Candidate: Ben Carson

Absurdity Index: 55.4

What InsideGov said

Famous for being the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head, Ben Carson is a brilliant physician, but has never been a politician. While some might be refreshed by a candidate so removed from Washington, history tells us that these candidates are the most likely to be loose canons, with offhand comments that trained politicians are smart enough to avoid. For these reasons, Carson is likely to wind up more sideshow than serious contender.

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#5

Candidate: Ted Cruz

Absurdity Index: 59.9

What InsideGov said

New to politics and more conservative than the entire field, Cruz easily ranks among 2016’s most absurd candidates. He’ll likely provide some entertainment at debates and in interviews, but there’s no way he’ll make it past New Hampshire. Only a consistent bloc of Tea Party support in the polls prevents him from finishing in the top four.

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#4

Candidate: Bobby Jindal

Absurdity Index: 66.5

What InsideGov said

Both highly conservative and unappealing to voters, the Governor of Louisiana has seen a sharp decline in support since he bombed a 2009 State of the Union response. The data says that neither voters nor television networks will take his bid very seriously; he may be among the first to drop out.

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#3

Candidate: Rick Santorum

Absurdity Index: 67.2

What InsideGov said

While Santorum’s years of elected experience are about average (16), his deeply conservative views and consistently low poll numbers make him a superfluous addition to the race.

The former Pennsylvania Senator might be hoping that his deep 2012 run will help validate his bonafides as a candidate, but GOP voters already seem weary of the candidate. If anything, his presidential election history will be more of a curse than a blessing.

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#2

Candidate: Carly Fiorina

Absurdity Index: 75.4

What InsideGov said

Fiorina’s low polling numbers and zero years of elected experience work against the businesswoman, who has been trying to transition to politics for the last decade. She deserves praise for her quick rise to senior vice president at AT&T, but her tenure at HP is more ominous.

While serving as HP’s CEO, the company underperformed in the stock market, took on billions in debt, laid off 30,000 workers and saw employee satisfaction plummet. The company’s board eventually forced her to resign. Add to that a failed Senate bid in 2010, and Fiorina has gone many years without a signature victory. It’s unlikely that the 2016 election will mean anything different for the aspiring politician.

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#1

Candidate: Donald Trump 

Absurdity Index: 191.2

What InsideGov said

When it comes to absurdity, Trump breaks the scale. Yes, his recent poll numbers aren’t terrible, but all candidates receive bumps after officially announcing their campaigns. Instead, it’s Trump’s wacky policy positions, decades of pretend presidential runs and zero years of elected experience that earn Trump the honor of 2016’s most absurd candidate.

Trump is more likely than anyone on this list to make headlines, yet less likely than the entire field to actually become president. He’s more than twice as ridiculous as the next-most absurd candidate. When the 2016 race is all over, don’t say Trump didn’t win anything. Congratulations, Donald.

 
 

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