5 things to Watch For in Tonight's GOP Debate

Trump vs. Carson! Budget-deal bluster! Entitlements, pot, and more...



The Republican presidential primary candidate clown-car arrives in Boulder, Colorado, tonight for a third prime-time showdown.

The top 10 GOP presidential hopefuls, all of whom averaged at least 3 percent in a selection of recent national polls, will face off against each other and a trio of moderators from debate host CNBC at 8 p.m. ET. Four additional candidates who didn't reach the 3 percent threshold but did come in above 1 percent will once again participate in a lower-tier undercard debate at 6 p.m.

The debate will be quick, and may not include much real debating. After complaints from several of the campaigns about the length of the last debate, which ran more than three hours, debate organizers agreed to limit the total event time to just two hours, and to allow the candidates to give opening and closing remarks as well, which will leave relatively little time for questions from the moderators or interactions with other candidates.

As always, your friendly writers and editors here at Reason will be live-tweeting both events, so make sure to check in for quick quips and commentary throughout the evening. In the meantime, here are 5 things to watch for during the main event.

1) Emerging rivalries: In the month and a half since the last GOP debate, the race has grown more contentious. With less time to make their case, the candidates are increasingly lashing out at their competitors, and, as a result, a web of rivalries has emerged. Chief among these is the jousting between Donald Trump, who has been the frontrunner since the middle of the summer but now looks to be slipping somewhat, and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has surpassed Trump in the crucial early caucus state of Iowa and one recent national poll. Trump, who earlier this year said he would not attack Carson, has knocked Carson for his Seventh Day Adventism, but Carson has said he won't hit back. But given the tendency of both candidates to go off-script and talk in ways that most conventional politicians wouldn't dare, it's easy to imagine sparks flying between them. The back and forth between these two novice, say-anything candidates—the loudmouth frontrunner and his soft-spoken competitor—is the biggest storyline going into the debate.

But Carson and Trump aren't the only pair of rivals to watch: There's also former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who recently downsized his campaign after months struggling to gain traction, and Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator who is Bush's chief rival in the race to be the party's establishment-favorite. Bush and Rubio aren't just competing over voters; they're also competing over donors, many of whom are already putting an awful lot of pressure on Bush to shore up his numbers and prove that he can be a viable competitor to the race's unconventional frontrunners.

And there's still a simmering anger between Trump and Bush, who clearly resents the way that Trump has changed the race and taken the early, dominant front-runner slot he was aiming for.

2) Is Rubio the shadow front-runner? All the polls right now say that the primary race is between Donald Trump (26.8 in the RealClearPolitics average) and Ben Carson (22 at RCP). But there's a growing sense amongst political watchers that Rubio, despite his modest poll numbers, may actually be the best positioned to win the race. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat this week made a fairly convincing case that Rubio is the most likely winner when it's all over, because all of the other candidates are ultimately impossible to imagine as winners. Vox's Ezra Klein wrote a similar column earlier this month. Rubio is currently favored to win by bookmakers, according to Maxim Lott's new Election Betting Odds site, which gives the Florida senator far better odds than any other candidate. The question now is whether Rubio can actually make good on the promise that so many observers see in him.

3) Substantive discussion of entitlements and the economy: So far, the Republican debates have been fairly short on meaningful discussion of domestic economic policy. Instead, they've served more as demonstrations of the candidates' various personas—character-driven reality show challenges more than serious management interviews.

That might change tonight, at least a little bit, for two reasons. The first is that the CNBC says it's building the debate around jobs and the economy, which should focus the questioning somewhat. The second is that the campaigns are far enough along by now that many of them have at least indicated basic frameworks for how they might address some of these issues. Ben Carson, for example, has been talking up a vague plan to replace Obamacare and Medicare with tax credits, though he recently revised the idea to make it optional. And just yesterday, Jeb Bush released a somewhat more detailed plan to overhaul Social Security and Medicare; the timing suggests it's an issue he might go out of his way to delve into during the debate.

4) The awful new budget deal between Congress and the White House: The budget deal, which suspends the debt limit and avoids a potential government shutdown in exchange for raising spending about $80 billion over the next two years, has already attracted criticism from several GOP candidates. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul slammed it as "rotten" and promised to do "everything in my power to stop it," including a potential filibuster. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called it a "golden parachute" for House Speaker John Boehner. Ben Carson has said flatly that he would never raise the debt ceiling if he became president. Expect all the candidates to be pressured tonight about whether they would raise the debt limit and under what conditions, and what they might do to reform the deadline-driven budget process.

5) Does pot make an appearance? It's a bit of a long-shot, given the short debate time and the focus on economic issues, but given that the debate is being held in one of the states that recently legalized marijuana, questions or comments about pot policy could still come up, especially in regards to state revenue issues. Even if the moderators don't get to it, candidates—especially Rand Paul—might. The Kentucky Senator has already broached the topic in a recent visit to Colorado, saying, "I'm not here to advocate for marijuana. But I'm here to advocate for freedom. And you know what, if I'm president I'm going to leave Colorado the hell alone." (Read Matt Welch on why Rand Paul should just come out and argue for full-fledged pot legalization already.)

NEXT: Spring Valley High School: Cop Fired, Conservatives Rallying

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  1. Ya know what I’m going to be watching for during tonight’s debate?

    Army of Darkness. The pub over the new series has reminded me its been way too long since I’ve seen it.

    1. World Series Game 2

      Fuck the Mets

  2. I don’t think I can do another one of these. When Christie starts dribbling about 9/11 I want to throw things at the TV.

    1. So… you did the first one?


      1. I sat through the entire Reagan Library debate/death march. I must have been in a dark place that night.

    2. I hear twitter is abuzz with #GOPDebateAndChill. There will be lots of babies conceived tonight.

  3. Um, no.

  4. The CU Boulder college Dems are staging a rally to complain about the fact that the GOP is not focusing on issues important to them, such as climate change and student debt. Which is sort of like showing up at a Rolling Stones concert and complaining that they’re not playing enough Beatles tunes.

    Go Buffs.

    1. They call pointless activism “cheesing” because it’s “fon to due.”

        1. Take it up with Stone and Parker!

  5. 5 things to Watch For in Tonight’s GOP Debate

    The bottoms of five bottles of lager?

    1. 5 bottles of beer isn’t remotely enough for me to survive watching this debate.

      5 bottles of whiskey, maybe. Death from alcohol poisoning would be better than watching this debate.

      1. I’ll probably drop some cash on a six-pack and rant in the live tweet thread again. At least it’s economics this time and not the clusterfuck of obnoxious neocon and socon dick waving the first two were.

      2. Except that the debate will eventually be over.

  6. I’m watching the drama around the Army blimp that’s apparently gone AWOL. A big floating gasbag on the loose in the DC environs, there’s a news story for ya. I’m waiting to see what happens to the poor bastards that have a few thousand pounds of top-secret military ordinance suddenly come crashing through their roof from 60,000 feet when the blimp pops.

    1. A big floating gasbag on the loose in the DC environs, there’s a news story for ya.

      Wait, Christie is skipping the debate?!?!

        1. Hey, I’ve been beaten to the punch all day – ’bout time I got in first!

      1. Confirmed. I just checked the blimp with my binoculars, and it does appear to have a cameltoe.

    1. “There is no truth to the claim that the study was politically motivated or conducted to advance an agenda,” she said. “The published findings are the result of scientists simply doing their job, ensuring the best possible representation of historical global temperature trends is available to inform decisionmakers, including the U.S. Congress.”

      Yes, our research was exclusively funded by BP Oil, but that fact in no way taints the legitimate science we do.

      1. I was watching a “scientific” presentation (which had some interesting factual components, sprinkled among the bullshit) where the presenter introduced himself as having “no disclosures” (with a smug look on his face). While he wore a fancy suit. And the host had said the venue was “lucky” to have him there since he was jet setting to many different places putting on these presentations.

        Apparently the suits and the plane tickets paid for themselves.

      1. I’m a busy man. I can’t be following you around all the time. Or can I?

        1. I should hope so!


    2. Citing confidentiality concerns and the integrity of the scientific process, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it won’t give Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) the research documents he subpoenaed.


      1. Congress really needs to grow a testicle, and start jailing people for contempt when they defy subpoenas.

      2. What I love about this is the shear arrogance of these bureaucrats (and make no mistake Mr. NOAA scientist, you are a bureaucrat if you work for a government agency).

        If you work for a government agency, then ALL of your communication should be privy to the public that pay your salary. I mean, isn’t that the whole reason Hillary broke the law and had the private server for fucks sake?

    3. It sounds like Lamar might be grasping, but the NOAA did not give a good reason to not give him the docs he wanted.

      Was this the study that seriously tested at p

    4. “By issuing this subpoena, you have instigated a constitutional conflict

      Um, by refusing the subpoena YOU are instigating the conflict. You work in the executive, Congress gets to oversee your work, end of story.

  7. Oh, I know this icky economic news pulls us away from other important things, but I thought I’d just point out that as predicted by the “goldbugging peanutz”, the Fed again, didn’t raise rates.


    1. Recovery Summer VII draws to a close?

    2. Pay no attention to the actions of the Fed, listen only to their words.

  8. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat this week made a fairly convincing case that Rubio is the most likely winner when it’s all over, because all of the other candidates are ultimately impossible to imagine as winners. Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote a similar column earlier this month.


    1. Huh, I missed that when I skimmed…

      I’m no political whiz kid at predicting the results of this game of whackbat we call politic, but without reading the linked article– that’s a pretty dumb prediction.

      You can’t imagine someone else as winning so therefore it must be this other guy that’s polling at statistically insignificant numbers?

    2. Well, Ezra Klein is supersmart. He was nerd glasses and condescends to everyone, that’s how you know he’s smart. Know how smart Ezra Klein is? He doesn’t even allow comments on his totally-lacking-in-self-awareness blog VOX because nothing a commenter says could possibly be anywhere close to as smart as him.

  9. With the new budget deal, I find it kind of comical that the Republican strategy tends to be listening to their enemies. By which I mean the mainstream press as well as Democrats themselves. The fact that they kept winning elections despite their obstructionist/terrorist actions isn’t enough to trump the Washington media bubble they all live in.

  10. I don’t care who finally gets elected, or which doesn’t, nor what the Fed does/does not do, nor whether, according to Mr “investment advisor with a claimed “near perfect prediction record” [insert advisor name of choice] , we are supposedly in for recession, depression, deflation, hyper inflation, a stock market boom, or whatever .


    Because whatever happens, my entirely self-managed, fully diversified, once per year adjusted long term savings plan will be safely protected and will , 9 times out of 10, grow at an average of 8% per annum over and above the prevailing inflation [or deflation], rate, year in, year out, as it has since 1986 when I started using it.

    Savings plan results 1972-2011:



    1. AWE$OME!!!!! $IGN ME UP!!!!

  11. Rand Paul is twittering about his accommodations. Seriously, he sounds like a whiny bitch. He should use it against them, instead of crying about accommodations that most folks don’t get regardless. Refuse the stupid room, use your damn RV, and work out of rental budget trucks if you have to. Show folks you can improvise and couldn’t give two shits about their accommodations because you have your own stuff!

    This guy has some shitty campaign managers. Do you think the revolutionaries were worried about their mother effin accommodations? Man the eff up Rand Paul!

    1. Exactly where do you see that?

    2. On the campaign twitter feed? Don’t see that either

      1. You folks are right, it was Chris LaCivita, a senior aide. My apologies.

  12. It’s an important debate, and I almost care enought to watch. I guess I’ll have to wait and see if I’m reading an interesting book at the time.

    1. Ooh…Dick and Jane! It’s been a while since I read that…I guess the debate will have to wait.

  13. Trump should be interesting. His whole schtick so far seems to be Fuck You, I’m Winning. What does he say now that he’s not?

    1. Fuck You, I’m Bi-Winning!

    2. Yeah, his meltdown is going to be epic. “Yuuuuge,” one might even say…

  14. The most important thing to watch for is whether science finally enters into the GOP debate in a more forceful way, rather than the “oh by the way” intro it got in the last debate.

    The whole world is moving on to tackling climate change, including the U.S. Significant dollars are going to be spent. So don’t complain when the solutions implemented aren’t to your liking, particularly if you simply ignored the entire issue.

    1. Hi Jackassand Ace. I have many questions for you about climate change since you and your friends seem to know everything about it

      1) Every climate model put forth up to this point has not only incorrect, but egregiously incorrect. Why should we make such drastic cuts to our economy and expend such enormous costs on predictions with such a shoddy track record?

      2) All of the recommendations for fighting climate change seem to involve enriching certain preferred interest groups and ceding more control over my life to unaccountable government bureaucrats. Is that an amazing coincidence or what?

      3) Government-mandated programs that pick winners and losers don’t have as strong a track record finding innovation and efficiency as the free market. The use of fossil fuels did more to “save the whales” than any government ban. Why should we expect this time to be different?

    2. 4) The industrialization of countries like India, Brazil, and China has done more to lift people out of poverty and end very real suffering for people living right now. How is it just to force them to stop such development because they might be making it marginally hotter for people who don’t exist yet? In your response, please be sure to consider the unreliability of predictions thus far, as well as the unwillingness of the most vocal proponents of fighting climate change to sacrifice such luxuries as private jets and locally raised foods.

      5) Most vocal climate change people tend to also oppose GMOs, nuclear energy, fracking, and other scientific developments that benefit millions of people at lower costs and with less harm to the environment. (a) What’s up with that? (b) How can you then consider yourselves the “science” party?

      Thank you, good sir.

      1. Hey Bern, how goes it?

        1. Wrong. The models have been fairly accurate. This may help…..edict.html

        2. That is just a conspiracy theory.

        3. The government picked winners in energy aong time ago, and it continues today. And that is fossil fuels. Renewable energy today isn’t, so far, the “winner” you are so worried about.

        4. Climate change is going to impact everyone negatively, including countries like China and India. And I know you don’t get that fact, but the leaders of both of those countries do. It’s why they have submitted fairly aggressive steps at decarbonization ahead of the Paris talks. They have passed you by.

        5. Wrong again. There are a number of scientists at the forefront of climate change that support nuclear, including James Hansen. GMOs don’t even enter into it, only in your imagination. as far as cracking, I haven’t seen any science organization that warns us about climate take any stance whatsoever on fracking. Such as Smerican Geophysical Union, etc. If anyone is conflating the two issues, it would be you.

        1. 1. Wrong. The models have been fairly accurate. This may help

          ROFL! You are so full of shit!!!! YOu’re link a young earth creationist babbling about entropy.

          That is just a conspiracy theory.

          Not just a theory: the rent seeking is well documented from its beginnings.

          Climate change is going to impact everyone negatively, including countries like China and India. And I know you don’t get that fact, but the leaders of both of those countries do. It’s why they have submitted fairly aggressive steps at decarbonization ahead of the Paris talks. They have passed you by.

          The fact that you say something this farcically stupid just proclaims how ignorant and superstitious you are. If the climate changes, some activities that weren’t possible in one bit of land become possible, and other activities become impossible. Many activities are not significantly affected. Some places will get longer growing seasons. Some places shorter ones. Some places can now grow grapes. Other places find the maple tree does not thrive any more.

          The leaders who “get ” it are putting their noses into the trough you religious nutjobs are superstitiously setting up.

          I really pity your students. It must be hell having an English teacher who is dumber than them.

      2. By the way, fracking, nuclear, free market, and more…if those are the solutions the GOP want toward climate change, they best be starting to posit those ideas to be in competition with what the left wants to do. Which was my original point…the world isn’t going to wait for you.

    3. The whole world is moving on to tackling climate change, including the U.S.

      Post bookmarked for future reference.

      This should be as fun as all my bookmarked articles on “ridership” numbers for Seattle’s various ‘alternate transit’ systems.

      1. Indeed. Post mark it.

      2. But Diane!

        If you don’t jump on board with his religion, when Jesus comes to inaugurate the Rapture, you might be left behind!

        1. What’s going to be fun is watching how few fucks President Hillary will give about Climate Change when the economy tanks. She MIGHT even give fewer fucks than Obama does.

          1. Actually, I think PResident Hillary will be fully on board with it: the graft fueling the popularization of the global warming cult is simply staggering. Much of it is what Plunkett of Tammany Hall would term “honest graft” too.

            There’s no way she can resist the lure of all that graft to line her pockets.

            1. One word: Unions

              Unions have been the single most powerful force in cock-blocking climate change anything at the government level.

    4. You call it climate change, I call it climate evolution. Stop being anti-evolution.

  15. It looks like Jeb! is letting loose a nasty fart that probably made the noise “Jeb!” on its way out. This greatly amuses Trump.

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