Webb: What to Look for on the Stage in Cleveland

SCOTT OLSON/Getty Images
SCOTT OLSON/Getty Images

The first Fox News/Facebook Republican presidential primary debate in conjunction with the Ohio Republican Party will be the official start of a full-blown campaign season for both Republicans and Democrats. The debate will be held at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, which is also the site of the 2016 Republican national convention to be held next summer.

First, let’s stop the debate about how candidates were chosen to participate in both debates. You cannot put 17 candidates on the stage. It will already be a significant challenge with 10. The Fox News/Facebook debate will take an average of five national polls “by major nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques recognized by Fox News.” This is and it should be a political meritocracy devoid of the sour grapes arguments made by some candidates who will not make the top 10.

There is a new reality today in politics and for the Republican Party. Americans are fed up with failed government at all levels, evidenced by the rise and sustainability of the TEA party principles, fed up with poll driven consultants, the pundit class that have determined that they can tell us how to think. It’s about time we think for ourselves.

There are three stages in Cleveland for the Republican presidential hopefuls.

The first stage is the Fox News debate at 5pm hosted by anchors Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer for those that did not make the top 10 in the average of five national polls for the prime time debate.

There is an advantage to those who participate in the 5 PM debate. Their respective teams will be recording, editing, and should prepare a media and social media onslaught to maximize their appearance before the 9 PM debate begins. In today’s technologically advanced society money can be raised through social media and grassroots engagement. This is a key aspect of any political debate.

These second-tier candidates must provide substance in order to have carry forward appeal to the Republican Party base. Broad statements will not suffice if they wish to broaden their appeal beyond their core supporters.

Out of this group business woman Carly Fiorina and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are likely to be the leaders of the pack. If former Texas Governor Rick Perry is in this group, this is his second chance and a new political beginning.

The second stage is the 9 PM debate. Donald Trump is leading in a variety of polls and slated for the center seat with candidates Jeb Bush and Scott Walker likely to be on either side. The rest of the stage will be placed according to their polling with the outer wings likely held by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Texas governor Rick Perry, or Ohio Governor John Kasich.

The same need for substance exists in the 9 PM debate.

Much of the attention is focused on businessman Donald Trump and a key question is which Donald will arrive on stage? Will it be the brash truth teller as his core supporters see him? Will he trump another often outspoken and brash voice, Governor Chris Christie? Or, will we see a more nuanced and policy driven Donald Trump?

For former Florida Governor Jeb Bush his best approach will be to stay above the fray and focus on substance. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s challenge is to step out of his state based narrative and onto the national stage. The surprise for the night will likely come from retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. He is a rudder of calm in an often hyperbolic environment.

Governor Mike Huckabee, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Rand Paul have to not only compete with the aforementioned candidates, but with each other to differentiate themselves.

The third stage is the media stage and this has to include the social media stage and those who use technology best in the days after the debates. Take note of the fact that this is a partnership with Facebook which presents a first ever and potentially huge social media blitz never before seen. In this sense the candidates can also present their policies to the world with Facebook’s global reach.

The candidates who are successful not only at outreach, but in fundraising from the grassroots and the big donors, have a chance to make it through a cold political winter. It’s very likely the winter will freeze out a number of candidates and we could see a spring thaw with five to eight candidates remaining.

No matter the outcome, the stage will be set and following the inevitable response in attacks from the leftist media, the Clinton campaign, and even the White House it’s the candidates who whether this post debate storm who will be likely more successful in the coming months.


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