The Stakes Are Raised At The Second Republican Debate

The stakes at the next Republican debate tonight are, well, debatable. With Trump so far ahead and not participating in the debate set for California, one is tempted to regard the second debate as a play for second place. Or it could be that the other candidates are waiting in the wings to see how the Democrats’ plan to imprison former President Trump goes.

As was the case in the first debate in Wisconsin, this debate will suffer from a lack of Trump. Trump will give a speech in Detroit to striking auto workers at the same time as the candidates participate in the debate Wednesday. Incidentally, Biden has plagiarized this concept of speaking to the United Auto Workers, where he appeared Tuesday, and the media is now acting as though it was Biden’s original idea.

Trump’s decision to focus on the important state of Michigan, a state he managed to pick up for Republicans in 2016 but then lose in 2020, is logical for the former president, given his seemingly insurmountable lead in the primaries, at this point nearly 43 points over his closest rival, Gov. DeSantis, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average.

Only one candidate who participated in the first debate in Wisconsin will not be on the stage Wednesday: former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who didn’t quite make the new threshold to qualify for the second debate. The first debate suffered from a surplus of participants, many of whom did not exactly bring the razzle dazzle. Suffice it to say that Hutchinson’s media-courting brand of anti-Trumpism will not be sorely missed by Republican primary voters. At any rate, the second debate will have seven participants.

DeSantis, currently polling in second place far behind Trump, can be expected to turn in a workman-like performance at the second debate, as he tends to be consistent and reliable (if not exciting). Some speculate that DeSantis will need to shake things up. The word “desperate” is being thrown around. Perhaps DeSantis will throw some glancing blows at Trump if prompted to do so by the debate moderators. His heart is not in these attacks, but he will do them in a perfunctory manner. Both DeSantis and Pence can be expected to take Trump’s right flank on the issue of abortion, though such a hardline position could be a tough sell in the general election.

Nikki Haley is one to watch on Wednesday. Whereas the other candidates have remained static, Haley’s stock is rising, especially in New Hampshire, where her Real Clear Politics polling average stands at 14 percent. Her line graph is shooting up the Y-axis, and this must have Trump paying attention, if only in the sense of appraising her potential as a VP pick. Given that Trump said “I like the concept” of a female VP, Haley can be viewed as even more ascendant. On the other hand, Trump also emphasized that “we’re going to pick the best person,” so it is hardly a foregone conclusion that the best person would be her. Further speaking in Haley’s favor, though, is a perception that she is a more “marketable” candidate than others who have staked out hardline positions on issues such as abortion, like DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence. Haley would be wise to stake out this moderate lane in the second debate as well because she just might be the ticket to help Trump appeal to skittish suburban moms (and dads too).

Viewers can expect more fireworks between Pence and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. For his part, Ramaswamy dismissed his fellow candidates as “SuperPAC puppets” in the first debate, suggesting their lines were prepackaged and canned. Indeed, Pence has never really taken off with voters, trailing at a disappointing 4 percent in polls, according to the Real Clear Politics average. Pence, nevertheless, will try to connect especially with the evangelical wing of the party, with an eye towards the Iowa caucuses. Ramaswamy has an opportunity to continue introducing himself to conservative voters as an articulate speaker and an unconventional thinker.

North Carolina Senator Tim Scott receives nothing but praise from his fellow Republicans since entering the race. Despite the media and establishment adulation, he has failed to establish much momentum. His Real Clear Politics average is not quite 3 percent, and he is in fifth place in Iowa. For a sitting senator, this is not a good showing; and if Scott cannot change this dynamic, he may have to consider returning to work in the Senate building sooner rather than later.

Michael Machera is the Dallas-based weekend editor for The Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.


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