So what do the candidates have to achieve in order to make this debate count?
First, they must avoid any gaffes. There can be no forgetting of their domestic priorities or any carefree gambling away of tens of thousands of dollars. Such embarrassing missteps and lapses in judgement must be avoided as best as possible. While the candidates may only be human, voters hold their political candidates up to a standard that most mere mortals can not withstand. American voters may forgive an American Idol contestant for hitting a wrong note and call in to vote for them twice to make sure they appear on the next episode, but when a politician hits a sour note, there is little if any mercy shown. And a misstep in this debate will be rebroadcast between now and New Hampshire more times than the 1983 classic, A Christmas Story is re-aired between now and the new year.
Beyond that each of the candidates need to achieve different things in this debate:
Romney needs to convince voters that he is conservative, gets things done, and in addition to proving that he is the most electable candidate to run against Barack Obama, he must also provide that special moment which gives Republicans good reason to want him to be the most electable candidate. And he must do so in a way that is believable and seemingly natural. Romney needs his Reagan moment. The type of moment that had people saying “Go get ’em”, when in a 1980 debate, a moderator asked that Ronald Reagan’s microphone be turned off, and with a terse turn of his head and a glaring look of disgust in his eyes, Reagan stared directly at the moderator and angrily declared “I am paying for this microphone” . Romney needs to pay someone ten grand to have someone set up a moment like that for him.
Newt must win people over with his ability to not only demonstrate that he knows how to apply conservative principles to government, he must again show that in addition to being better at articulating the conservative cause and message than any other candidate on the stage, he is also far more electable than anyone expected he could be. Newt needs to publicly point out to his rivals, that despite the darts and arrows they have been throwing at him, he is still standing and that is in part due to his strategy to run a campaign of substance, on the issues, not on the flaws of his opponents. Newt needs to stand up and say, “I have taken the fire you have all thrown at me and I will withstand the fire that President Obama will throw at me because I will continue to run a campaign on issues, ideas, and solutions, and the people will not fall for President Obama’s tactics of political distraction and personal destruction”.
Ron Paul may not need to do anything much differently than he already has. An apparently divided Republican base is giving him the chance to actually win Iowa, something which is now very possible. But such a win may not help Ron Paul very much beyond Iowa. Look at where it got Mike Huckabee in 2008. But if Ron Paul wants to try to win Iowa and become a viable candidate beyond the Hawkeye State, he needs to appear, sound, and act presidential. I am not suggesting that he drop his hadrcore conviction to isolationist policies and lack of drive for a decent national defense. However I am suggesting that many voters may take him more seriously, even as a candidate to cast a protest vote for, if he acted more like a President than the crazy old man throwing stones at the neighbor’s cat to chase it away from his tomato plants.
This is a tough one. At this point, Perry needs to build himself up and knock down Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich all at the same time. He must also shine in a way that makes people believe he can hold his own against Barack Obama. The best way for him to do that is to be as natural and confident as he is in numerous, scripted, 30 second ads and eloquently contrast the conservative failings of the two frontrunners with his record in Texas. “You guys want to talk about creating jobs? Then let’s do that. How many Americans lost their jobs when you and your investors got filthy rich while hurting ordinary workers by buying companies, jacking up their profits at the expense of workers and then reselling them, Mitt? And Newt, how many jobs were created when your government shutdowns in the 90’s as Speaker of the House cost Americans over $1.6 trillion? I am the only one on this stage who has actually shaped a government environment that has allowed businesses to flourish and for the free market to create jobs. I am the only one on this stage who has actually limited government’s involvement in people’s lives and that’s a message that I can take to the American people as they compare my record to President Obama’s record”. Statements similar to that in nature, may not make Perry the winner of the Iowa caucuses but they will help keep him in the race and give him the chance to reshape his image as the long campaign continues.
While all the candidates are trying to speak to the large evangelical vote in Iowa, these two need to aim their words far more directly at them than all their rivals. If they intend to see their campaigns survive past New Hampshire, both Bachmann and Santorum need to surprise the political world with a Huckabee-like finish in the caucuses that is hammered together by a coalescing of evangelical voters behind them. Both of them must convincingly argue that they are consistent in their beliefs and their politics and that they are both reform minded conservatives who can defeat President Obama. The problem is that Santorum and Bachmann are seemingly cancelling one another out. So one of them must try to somehow land a knockout punch on the other. The one who can take the other out in this debate, will make themselves quite competitive in the remaining weeks of the Iowa caucus campaign and will have the best shot of seeing their campaign last until at least South Carolina. Consider Bachmann and Santorum as having to use this as a debate within a debate to win the caucus within the caucus.
Huntsman has written off every early primary state except for New Hampshire. While Giuliani pinned his presidential hopes on Florida in 2008, in 2012, Huntsman is pinning all his on New Hampshire. More specifically, he is pinning his hopes on beating Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Given that strategy, Huntsman is the only candidate on the stage who can afford to ignore Iowa voters and instead address New Hampshire voters. That means Huntsman has to paint himself as a John McCain type of maverick, who is willing to go against the grain of his own Party and be the consistent conservative that mainstream Republican politicians are not. Like Rick Perry, Huntsman must try to give answers that all lead back to his conservative management of Utah when he was Governor. All of that is going to be a hard sell, but that is the only way he can go now that his campaign bought a one way ticket to New Hampshire.
The debate will be held at the Sioux City Convention Center Today, Thursday, December 15th from 9:00-11:00 PM/ET, in conjunction with the Iowa Republican Party.
It will be moderated by Special Report anchor Bret Baier on FOX News Channel (FNC) and live-streamed on YouTube.com/FOXNews, in addition to FOX News Radio, FOX News Mobile, and FOXNews.com.
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