Election 2016

5 Things To Watch for In Tonight's GOP Presidential Debate

Can you say Ronald Reagan?


Hold onto your couch cushions: Tonight's Republican debate sequel will be bigger, longer, and more Reagan-y than last month's record-setting first one. Set to clock in at a hope-draining three hours long, the prime time debate, which starts at 8 p.m. ET on CNN, will feature an expanded, 11-person field—including all 10 candidates who appeared at the first GOP debate last month, plus Carly Fiorina, the former tech company CEO whose recent poll numbers qualified her for entry. (CNN will also hold a happy hour debate for second tier candidates, this time with just four low-polling presidential hopefuls, starting at 6 p.m.)

Going into tonight's face off, the big story is, once again, Donald Trump, who has not only held onto his lead, but has increased it over the last month, holding a series of well-attended mega-rallies while continuing to get into a variety of spats with other candidates.

Trump will, unavoidably, be the central attraction of tonight's show, and he's likely to continue to rely on the reality-TV-style antics that have boosted his campaign so far. Still, Trump will likely be pressed to go beyond his usual shtick, so it will be worth watching for his responses now that he's more firmly in the lead. Because it's 2015, Reason will of course be live-Tweeting all of this, as well as posting updates and reaction on Hit & Run throughout the evening and tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, here are five things to watch for as we head into tonight's event:

credit: Unknown / Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0

1.) The Reagan factor: Tonight's debate will be held at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California. Nancy Reagan will be in attendance, and the candidates will be positioned on stage in front of the former president's Air Force One. The setting means that the debate could easily turn into a contest, even more than is typical for the GOP, to see who can come across as the most Reaganesque—or, less generously, who can say the words "Ronald Reagan" the most times. To some extent, this has been going on since the beginning of the campaign: Donald Trump has declared his "great respect" for Reagan and even compared himself to the man, though he has also (not surprisingly) overplayed their ties. Scott Walker is kind of a Reagan fanatic; he has said that he holds a patriotic Reagan themed party Reagan's birthday every year, which is also Walker's wedding anniversary. Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and most if not all of the others in the race have been known to cite or allude to Reagan as well, and not always artfully. Expect to see plenty more of that this evening. (For more on the GOP's Reagan obsession, read Nick Gillespie.)

2.) Immigration awkwardness: Among the many policy details Donald Trump has yet to explain in detail is exactly how he would execute his stated plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. No doubt that's due in large part to the fact that he doesn't have a plan, and that no one does, because there's no plausible way to do it. Trump probably won't show up with a five point deportation plan at the ready, but a response here could signal how he plans to handle questions about policy specifics as his campaign goes on.

The immigration debate could also combine in interesting ways with the presidential setting. There are a lot of ways tonight's inevitable Reagan-off could play out, but one of the most potentially revealing would be if the candidates had to respond to Ronald Reagan's explicit support for "the idea of amnesty" and his eventual grant of amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants. Among the things that no Republican presidential candidate can say in 2015: that amnesty is good, and that Ronald Reagan was wrong. Asked about Reagan's support for amnesty, at least one of those might have to give.

3.) Foreign policy foul-ups: As part of the Republican National Committee's requirement that news organizations hosting debates include someone from conservative media, one of tonight's moderators is Hugh Hewitt, a widely respected talk radio host whose interests are skewed decidedly toward the foreign policy end of the issue spectrum. On his radio show, the hawkish Hewitt has already pressed Trump and current second-place candidate, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, about their knowledge of various foreign policy details, and found their knowledge predictably lacking.

credit: Foter / Public domain

As The Washington Post's Dave Weigel notes, Hewitt has said since then he probably won't ask basic recognition questions during tonight's debate, but he's still likely to get into the weeds on foreign affairs. I don't know whether Hewitt will succeed in getting candidates to respond with details or new information, but at minimum, the hawkish slant of his questions will almost certainly give candidates opportunities to build up their Reagan count.

4.) Fiorina vs. Trump: Former HP exec Carly Fiorina is the only newcomer to the main stage debate, and the only woman in the group. As a result, she's likely to receive a lot of attention. In particular, she'll almost certainly be asked about Donald Trump's recent derisive comments about her appearance ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!" Trump said to Rolling Stone in an interview published last week.) Fiorina has already responded with a punchy web video. Given Trump's penchant for showboating insults, Fiorina's desire to stand out, and CNN's stated intention to provoke moments of conflict between candidates, expect both the moderators and the candidates to stoke the rivalry between the two.

5.) Carson and Cruz in the wings: If Donald Trump crashes, or his lead begins to soften, who is best positioned to step in and take the lead? Right now, both Carson and Cruz are attempting to set themselves up as Trump's successor. Like Trump, Carson is a non-traditional candidate with no previous political experience who has nonetheless been steadily rising in the polls; he's currently at 20 percent in the RealClearPolitics average, about 10 points behind Trump. At 6.3 percent, Cruz is a lot further behind, but he's another outsider candidate with a record of making trouble for the party's established power centers, and he's also been not-so-quietly cozying up to Trump—refusing to criticize the frontrunner when given the chance, and even holding an event with him to oppose the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran. Indeed, some observers think Cruz is now setting himself up rather well—as someone who could capture much of the Trump fanbase, while rallying enough support from the party's establishment and elites as a preferable alternative to someone like Trump or Carson.

NEXT: Join Us Tonight As Reason Livetweets the GOP Debates

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  1. Wow nothing about rand

    1. Shut up, this is all about Carly and the Donald, bagger!

      1. Isn’t it about The Donald and Ben Carson?

        good cop vs. bad cop? It’s got the makings of a wonderful buddy movie.

        “The Donald was a brash and impulsive billion but he met his match the calm dignity of Dr. Ben. Can these two men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”


        “Can Dr. Ben keep a lid on his explosive partner long enough to solve the crime of the century?”

        Carly is the obligatory love interest. It begins as a love/hate relationship, “So, you don’t like my face?” But turns into a passionate sex romp.

        1. Don’t let Sugarfree write the script.

            1. Why not? Prude.

              Because no one, not even HBO, will air it.

          1. According to AC, in the morning links, this is about which of those two dragons that get to skull fuck him.

            But that might have been an allegory. I’m sometimes a little unclear as to how that works.

            I’d guess Carly winning would involve a strap-on, or actually being smothered and having your head eaten.

        2. No, that’s a damn horse face, Carly! But… turn around would you? OMG, she’s got a white girls ass!

        3. The Doctor and The Hat

          Open on a neurosurgery theater. Donald Trump in a trenchcoat leans over Dr. Carson’s shoulder as he performs surgery.

          (poking at exposed brain)
          Benny, what’s that part do? Is that the America center? The greatness center?

          No, Donald. And I’ve asked you before not to smoke in here.

          Wait… does this guy not have an America or Greatness center? Is he one of those rapist murder Mexicans?

          Please lower your voice, Donald.
          (looks down)
          And please put your penis away.

          But it itches and I have to pee-pee.

          1. Nothing about vaginal prolapse? You are slipping.

            1. It’s a 60 minute show, dammit. Give it time.

          2. Not enough doom cock.

            1. Can there ever be enough Doom Cock?

              1. Not for the likes of her.

        4. +1 I’m getting too old for this shit

  2. 5 things to watch for in Tonight’s debate”

    1. CNN bias.
    2. CNN bias.
    3. CNN bias.
    4. CNN bias.
    5. CNN bias.

    Did I miss something?

    1. Honestly dont think cnn is that bad in the bias department

      1. I agree – they’re pretty good at it

        1. They’re damn good at it!

      2. I can’t tell. It’s always muted in the airport terminal.

    2. Are they bringing in “I Like Candy” Crowley for the debate?

      1. I will assure all and sundry that the Candy I am with is NOT her.

  3. I now like Reagan more because he was in ad for cigarettes.

    Real men aren’t afraid of a little lung cancer.

    1. Nice of him to send them to “all my friends” as well.

      1. I’m sending you a carton of filterless Pall Malls just because I like you.

        You’re Welcome!

    2. Ah, the good ol days…

  4. Harvey Dent…Can we trust him?

    1. That’s because he’s dead.

    2. I was hoping that was going to be from the honey badger guy.

      1. I have disappointed a legend. 🙁

  5. Of course there will be no “Fuck you. Cut spending”.

  6. Reagan was well liked, re-elected in a landslide, and presided over a period of economic expansion. It is natural for Team Red candidates to hearken back to him. Who else from the last 40 years would hearken back to: Nixon the Crooked, Ford? George Sr who lied about raising taxes and presided over a recession? The Hated BOOOSH junior whose stench the party still can’t wash from themselves?

    Clinton is doing the same thing, banking on memories of her husband’s time in office. She isn’t trying to get voters to recall how great the Carter years were and isn’t running on 4 more years of Obama.

    1. Reagan was well liked, re-elected in a landslide, and presided over a period of economic expansion.

      Same with Obama.

      1. Well, one out of three ain’t bad, anyways.

        1. Well, he was re-elected, so the Butthead is finally right about something, even if by accident.

        2. By economic expansion, I believe he’s talking about the Fed’s Treasury tab.


      3. well liked

        Depends who you ask



        in a landslide

        60%’s a landslide?

        presided over a period of economic expansion

        Go home buttplug, you’re drunk

        1. from the low of -8.9% (Bush’s last quarter) to 3.7% of last quarter that is a trough to peak improvement of 12.6 points.

          Better than Reagan.

          1. Of course there was something else that was different for Bush’s last two years in office vs. the last couple of years. Not sure what that could be…

          2. Palin’s Buttplug|9.16.15
            “from the low of -8.9% (Bush’s last quarter) to 3.7% of last quarter that is a trough to peak improvement of 12.6 points.”

            Yeah, turd, pick them cherries!

            1. Even better:

              What he’s comparing is rates of change quarter by quarter. Its just idiotic to add or subtract the rates of change from two widely separate quarters to reach what is, essentially, a random number.

              Howsabout total increase in GDP, from Q1 1980 through Q2 1987 versus Q1 2008 through Q2 2015. Get back to us on that, wouldja, shreek?

          3. So, we’re counting 4Q 2008 as “Bush’s last quarter” for purposes of GDP, but FY 2009 as “Bush’s last year” for purposes of spending?

            1Q 2009 GDP was -5.4%. 2Q 2009 was -0.5%. Why not use either of those, as either the quarter when Obama took office, or his first full quarter in office?

            And somewhere after that they revised GDP to bump the number by, if memory serves, around 0.5%.

          4. Thanks for showing me the light with your randomly chosen numbers. Tonight when I pray to Obama, I’ll be sure to thank Him for the glorious 3.7% gift he gave us, in some random fiscal quarter, that single-handedly rebooted the economy and built the glorious economic utopia we all live in today.

        2. This is old but still consistent

          In 1989, the median American household made $51,681 in current dollars (the 2012 number, again, was $51,017). That means that 24 years ago, a middle class American family was making more than the a middle class family was making one year ago.

          This isn’t a lost decade for economic gains for Americans. It is a lost generation.

      4. The classic definition of landslide is a margin of at least 10%.

        Obama’s not even close.

      5. Same with Obama.

        Let’s see?

        Reagan: 49 states + DC, 525 EVs

        Obama: 26 states + DC, 332 EVs

        Yup, totally the same.

        1. Reagan: 54,455,472 (58.8%)
          Mondale: 37,577,352 (40.6%)
          Margin of victory: 16,878,120

          Obama: 65,915,796 (51.1%)
          Romney: 60,933,500 (47.2%)
          Margin of victory: 4,982,296

          Yup, totally the same.

  7. OT: Rock Around The Clock


    On Wednesday, police announced that no charges would be filed against Ahmed. Still, Larry Boyd, the police chief for Irving Texas, insisted that the device was a “hoax bomb” and not a clock, as Ahmed maintained. Boyd denied that Ahmed’s skin color was a factor in the police reaction. The case is considered closed.

    Ahmed and his family are considering their own legal options and were consulting with an attorney today.

    1. It had wires and electricity and stuff! It was like a nightmare right out of Radio Shack!

      The whole thing is so stupid you just could not make it up.

  8. We are close, so very close, to having the technology to make a hologram of Reagan that can run for office and be president again.

    Reagan/Bush 2024: NECROCRACY NOW!

    1. I for one welcome our future overlord: Nixon head in a jar and headless Spiro Agnew.

      1. We can bring him back, we can build him better, we can put that Agnew head on a Nixon!

        Agnew Head Nixon vs Hillary 2016!

        Wait… we can do better! Agnew head on a Nixon Torso with Hillary lower body!

        Agnew head Nixon with VJ and Cankles in double wide pansuit vs everyone 2016!

        1. Oh my god this just killed me dead.

      2. Nixon knows what’s up.

        Leela: Cool your jowls, Nixon. You may not like it that Dr. Zoidberg desecrated a flag. You might even find the image of it festering in his bowels somehow offensive. But the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Earth Constitution.

        Nixon: Aroo! Maybe so. But I know a place where the Constitution doesn’t mean squat.

        [Scene: Supreme Court.]

  9. I know this is an intra-party debate, but I’ll be watching to see who can bring up “real” issues.


    Most heroin is smuggled into the U.S. by illegal immigrants crossing the border with help from Mexican drug cartels, DHS officials tell the Daily Caller. “The price for being led across is carrying one of those backpacks [full of heroin],” says Adam Park, Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent in Charge.

    If, in fact, heroin is flooding into this country via illegal immigrants crossing the border with Mexico, then Democrats bear significant responsibility for the heroin epidemic. Why? Because they made securing the border contingent on amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegals. If Democrats had been willing to pass legislation to secure the border without extracting highly controversial concessions from Republicans, Congress would have dedicated the resources needed to enhance border security.

    I have no idea where to even begin making fun of this story. Maybe I will just register my dislike of having to change our motto to “Mexicans, ass sex and heroin”. Not as good as grass.

  10. The only thing I’ll be looking for during the debate is the remote, so I can change the fucking channel.

    1. Who wear’s the pants in the family at your house? I thought the man of the house always had the remote in his control?

      1. I mean, the shit writes itself.

        “Look, Donald, don’t talk to me like I’m the staff at one of your cheap motels…”

  11. I am very much looking forward to not watching tonight’s debate.

  12. The one thing none of the other candidates does, which I think would be very effective, is just . . . laugh at Trump. In a good-natured way, just go with “Man, Donald, you crack me up. Seriously, the Mexicans are going to build a wall on our southern border? You’re gonna have to hand out a whole bunch of visas for that.”

    If you want to diminish Trump, and set off a campaign-ending temper tantrum, that’s the way to do it.

    1. Agreed. The Donald strikes me as the type who would be very easy to goad into a red-faced, vein-bulging tantrum.

      1. I mean, the shit writes itself.

        “Look, Donald, don’t talk to me like I’m the staff at one of your cheap motels…”

    2. Or just scoff at one of his answers and ask him, “That’s what you are going with? Okay then.”

    3. That strategy doesn’t even work in this forum. Laughing at Trump is laughing at the issues that concern his supporters.

      I guess making America great is a joke to you. How can you laugh at the millions of Americans who need jobs? etc.

  13. This post might seem completely off-topic, but it is only somewhat off-topic.

    Today is the last day of my vacation. I decided to head to the local Tilted Kilt to have a long lunch with beer and good-looking women.

    Two of the TVs at the Tilted Kilt weren’t tuned to sports.

    One was tuned to Fox and showed Outnumbered. Andrea Tantaros looked quite tantalizing and I was torn between gazing pervertedly on her and gazing pervertedly on the Kilt’s waitstaff. I made the One, True, and Proper Decision and gazed pervertedly on both.

    The other TV was tuned to CNN’s coverage of the debate participants arriving at the Reagan Library and getting a walkthrough of the debate stage. I mostly successfully ignored this TV.

    I failed when a person looking like a fat Guido channelling Don Corleone showed up. I said to myself, “Who the fuck is that?”. Mike Huckabee. Fuck. Slicked back hair and a pitch black suit jacket. It looks like he has put back on some of the weight he lost.

    I also look forward to not watching the debate.

    1. Say what you want about Fox News and their idiocy, but damn do they get some top notch “talent” to sit on those couches.

  14. So when is Reason publishing the Debate attempt to poison me drinking game rules?

  15. undocumented immigrants

    So is Suderman an idiot, or is the cocktail party thing real?

    1. I went back and noticed that Suderman recommended Scalzi’s book “Lock In” and more recently went he on a incoherent rant about Sad Puppies…


      So the answer is “C all of the above”

      1. The amusing thing is that his fellow cocktail SJW’s shit on him behind his back.

      2. Why, what did he say about the sad puppies?

  16. I just started 6 weeks ago and I’ve gotten 2 check for a total of $4,200…this is the best decision I made in a long time! “Thank you for giving me this extraordinary opportunity to make extra money from home. This extra cash has changed my life in so many ways, visit this following website for more details,,, thank you!”


    1. I started 12 weeks ago but started outsourcing my job to a couple Mexican illegals for 5 bucks an hour and now I’ve gotten 4 checks for a total of $16,800!

  17. And not one of the five is about the economy….

    Instead Peter “nativist racist” Suderman once again shrieks like an idiot “Why won’t they vote how us super smart journalists tell them too?!?!?”

  18. I just started 6 weeks ago and I’ve gotten 2 check for a total of $4,200…this is the best decision I made in a long time! “Thank you for giving me this extraordinary opportunity to make extra money from home. This extra cash has changed my life in so many ways, visit this following website for more details,,, thank you!”


  19. Right now, both Carson and Cruz are attempting to set themselves up as Trump’s successor.

    So Trump’s successor is either going to be a religious kook or a religious kook who also happens to be a grade A asshole? That’s depressing.

  20. An “undocumented” immigrant is someone from another country who is here legally, but who left his green card at home. Hence, “undocumented” but not illegal.

    And “illegal alien” is someone who is not here legally. Hence, “illegal”.

    1. I give precisely zero fucks about immigration, legal or otherwise, but all the hand wringing over calling them illegals and anchor babies drives me insane.

      1. Mx Undocumented Visitor from a place slightly further way than here?

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