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And Now, This Handy Fifth-GOP-Debate Media Primer

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 16:49
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(Before It's News)

  Lights, camera, Vegas: The stage is set before the Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Chris Carlson / AP Photo)

It’s getting close to go time for the Republican presidential hopefuls taking CNN’s stage at Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel for the fifth GOP debate on Tuesday evening. This means the prognostication machine is rumbling into overdrive in the media and popping out lists right and left—well, mostly right this time.

Let’s take stock for a moment before the evening’s events reveal whether their creators were actually onto something or were just filling requisite airtime or column inches. First, there’s host network CNN‘s “7 things to watch” list composed by one Stephen Collinson:

Will Cruz face missiles?

Cruz suddenly finds himself in the top tier of the Republican presidential race—and in the crosshairs of his rivals.

The Texas senator surged to a 10-point lead in the closely watched Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll of the Iowa caucuses released over the weekend, meaning Cruz can expect plenty of incoming fire on Tuesday night. Cruz has had an easy ride from Trump so far, but the front-runner has started to pointedly question the freshman senator’s readiness for the Oval Office.

[...] Which Donald Trump will show up?

He might be under pressure in Iowa, but Trump is, if anything, cementing his lead elsewhere. In one poll released Monday, by Monmouth University, he was a staggering 27 percentage points ahead of his nearest national challenger, Cruz.

So that gives the Donald a dilemma when he takes his familiar front-runner’s spot at center stage.

[...]Will the establishment strike back (starring Marco Rubio)?

It’s time for Rubio to turn potential into poll numbers.

Many establishment Republicans are now looking to the Florida senator as they become increasingly desperate for a candidate to consolidate opposition to Cruz and Trump, whom many elites doubt can win a general election.

Clearly, the seriousness of the occasion hasn’t escaped Collinson, given the many clever metaphors he’s trotting out for that optimal horse-race experience. Bonus points for the timely “Star Wars” reference, too. But considering the network’s WWE-style promo spot for the debate, the tone of CNN’s teaser piece shouldn’t be surprising. To wit (via YouTube):

Next up, there’s The Washington Post, besting CNN’s list by one entry with Post journalist Amber Phillips’ picks for “The top 8 issues in the CNN Republican presidential debate” (Insider tip: lower-case headlines convey the sense that the news outlet in question isn’t Trying Too Hard):

1. Terrorism and the Islamic State
The United States has dropped more than 9,000 bombs on the terrorist group since it started its air campaign last year, and the Islamic State has lost about 40 percent of the territory it controls in Iraq, while a small contingent of U.S. special forces is helping advise the moderate opposition in northern Syria. That’s according to President Obama, who briefed reporters Monday on progress fighting the group, as polls show a large majority of Americans are fearful of another terrorist attack and doubtful of the president’s ability to handle it.

[...] 2. Muslim immigrants

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans agree with Donald Trump’s proposal to institute a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigrants coming to the U.S. for the time being, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. But 60 percent of all Americans say it’s the wrong thing to do.

That leaves most Republican candidates in a tough spot. How do they repudiate Trump’s idea without alienating the large contingent of support he’s clearly got within their own party?

Definitely more meaty and less flashy than the last list. Moving on, USA Today decided to go all negative-space with Heidi M. Przybyla’s pre-debate rundown, entitled “What hasn’t come up in the previous 4 GOP debates?” (Again with the lower case.) What indeed?:

Women’s issues

In one previous debate, Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP field, was asked about her position on paid maternity leave. She said it should not be mandated by the government. But that was just one question to one candidate on a big issue that’s gotten scant attention.

[...]U.S. troop levels in Iraq/Syria

Tuesday night will mark the first debate since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., so candidates have yet to have the opportunity to address how they’d respond on a debate stage. The issue figures to dominate much of the discussion in Las Vegas.

The Black Lives Matter movement and Obamacare were two other inaction (so far) items on that list to which USA Today would like to bring to the candidates’ attention.

Not to be outdone, Bloomberg’s Ramesh Ponnuru composed not 7, not 8, but “16 questions for Tuesday night’s Republican debate.” Here’s a sampler (via the Chicago Tribune):

4. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that, under the bill you co-sponsored in 2013, immigration would roughly double over the next decade. To what American problem is such a large increase in immigration the solution?

5. Sen. Rubio, you said in 2008 that Florida should get ahead of other states in establishing a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions. What accounts for your change of heart on this issue?

6. Ms. Carly Fiorina, you’ve said that a reformed tax code could easily fit in three pages. When will you show us your preferred three-page code?

Then there’s the GOP’s vaunted mouthpiece The Wall Street Journal, for which columnist Reid J. Epstein has come up with “What to Watch at Tuesday’s GOP Debates on CNN,” inviting readers to process the Vegas stage show as he does. Here, he sounds the death knell for two once-promising White House hopefuls:

How cooked are Jeb Bush and Ben Carson?

With the energy and discussion around Messrs. Cruz and Rubio and the approaching Trump hurricane – Trumpicane? — the former Florida governor has become almost an afterthought. Mr. Bush has by all accounts a strong Nevada organization, but like elsewhere in the country that hasn’t translated into noticeable popular support. Mr. Bush is so irrelevant that Dan Pfieffer, the former Barack Obama aide who is now a CNN commentator, wrote on Twitter that he has less at stake than any candidate except Mr. Trump.

For literary buffs, here’s an erudite listicle from The New Yorker, blending high and low culture in the magazine’s picks of “What to Read Before Tonight’s Republican Debate on CNN,” featuring relevant articles written by New Yorker contributors:

Here are some of the New Yorker stories worth reading before the debate begins, listed in order of the candidates’ poll standings.

Donald Trump

For a consideration of Trump’s white-nationalist followers, read Evan Osnos; for an analysis of how he and his fellow-candidates think about economic inequality, read George Packer; for an examination of Trump’s similarities with Marine Le Pen, the French far-right politician, read John Cassidy; for a look at his business background, read James Surowiecki; for further background, including a turn from Jean-Claude Van Damme, read Mark Singer’s 1997 Trump Profile.

Better get on that quick. Meanwhile, The Washington Post would like to remind some readers (they know who they are) that the paper is actually on-point, thank you very much, when it comes to its breakdowns of which voters support which GOP candidate. Here’s columnist Janell Ross with a knuckle-rapping followed by a handful of graphs in “Who really supports Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush — in 5 charts”:

Ever wondered if it’s true that the senior citizen and country club sets really like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)? Well, maybe not. But we do know this: When The Fix published an analysis of polling data in July that highlighted the huge role that white voters without college degrees played in forming Trump’s voter base, people were outraged.

No matter that this conclusion was based on cold, hard, scientifically sound polling data. People didn’t believe it. Some of the hostility seemed to stem, quite frankly, from a lack of understanding about the way that polls work. (Yes, we are looking at those of you who emailed us to say that could not be true because you 1) have a Ph.D. or 2) no one called and asked you which presidential candidate you support. Yes, other Fix readers, we really heard a lot from both categories.)

If those were your objections, we would strongly suggest that you read up a bit on polling and statistical methods. We will not be covering the fine details here.

[...]Now for those candidate breakdowns. Keep this information in mind as you watch Tuesday night’s debate. It might help to make clear why a candidate answered a particular question the way that he did.

Donald Trump: Male, less formal education, lower-income

The New York real estate magnate remains the undisputed national leader in the Republican field. In the the Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday, 38 percent of Republican-leaning registered voters told researchers Trump is their candidate.

His support remains strongest among those who earn less than $50,000 a year, those who identified themselves as conservatives, and white non-evangelicals. But those who do not have a college degree—as mentioned above—still make up the fourth-biggest part of the Trump base.

So that’s that. Also, looks like Marco Rubio is pretty popular among younger Republican males, incidentally.

Finally, if would-be voters need help figuring out “How to Watch the Republican Debate”? This time, the New York Times Alan Rappeport is ready with some purely logistical information about how to actually find and watch, or listen to, the debate.

Despite the media-circus factor, this debate falls during a moment of flux and risk, so while this evening’s events might be spun or trivialized, the stakes are far from trivial. Watch this site and Truthdig’s Twitter feed for our own ongoing coverage of the fifth Republican face-off.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

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