The first Republican presidential debate is being held Thursday night August 6th. The prime time debate will feature the top ten GOP candidates based on the polls. While that debate will be consequential for Donald Trump, as well as for other leading GOP contenders like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, the junior varsity debate that precedes it may be more significant in that it could start the process of winnowing down the GOP field.
With the top ten hitting the big stage on FOX at 9 p.m. Eastern time, the seven dwarfs in the GOP presidential field will duke it out at 5 p.m. without having to worry about being eclipsed by Donald Trump’s personality during their debate. The “JV debate” will feature seven Republicans who have been polling near zero in a series of national polls.
For those seven candidates, Thursday’s debate may be a sort of “do or die” moment. The winner of the JV debate, if there is one, will likely leap frog some of the losers in the varsity debate, and end up being promoted to the big stage in September. A candidate who stumbles in the field of lesser candidates will have the dubious distinction of losing on a stage full of losers. Nobody want to finish as a loser among losers.
For Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore and former New York Governor George Pataki, the early debate is an opportunity for them to introduce themselves to national voters, who are unfamiliar with either candidate. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina also needs to do well in order to elevate her profile. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham needs to shine in the debate so he can establish himself as a serious presidential candidate. For years Graham has been a prominent guest on news channels, but too often he has come across as John McCain’s foreign policy cheerleader with a Southern accent, rather than as a serious political figure in his own right.
The other three candidates–Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum–are familiar to many American voters, but relegated to the junior stage because that familiarity has bred contempt rather than enthusiasm for their campaigns. Santorum was a relatively big player early on in the 2012 race, but social conservatives have gravitated to Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, leaving Santorum without a base to support him.
Bobby Jindal has to explain his economic mess in Louisiana or he is finished. Once hailed as one of the rising stars in the GOP, Jindal has become more and more stridently right-wing. He once admonished fellow Republicans to “stop being the stupid party”, before deciding if he couldn’t beat stupid, why not join it?
Texas Governor Rick Perry must still be miffed that his place on the main debate stage was snatched away by a late polling bump for the comparatively unknown Ohio Governor John Kasich. Perry’s challenge is to not repeat his disastrous 2012 debate performance, where he couldn’t remember which three government agencies he planned to cut.
At 5 p.m Eastern time the Republican junior varsity team will take the stage to debate one another. The winner of that “JV debate” will boost their chances of hitting the big stage the next time out, and a victory will give his or her candidacy a much needed shot in the arm. However, anyone who comes out a loser on the junior stage Thursday night, might be finished. They may not even make it to September.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.