Saxman: GOP Debate – First Round March to Milwaukee

[Editor’s note: Bearing Drift content partner Chris Saxman’s Wednesday post is worth looking at the day after the first Republican presidential debate.]

The Republican nomination begins tonight in Milwaukee and ends eleven months later (July 15-18) at the RNC Convention also in Milwaukee.

The first goal for the candidates in tonight’s Republican debate is to advance to the next one on September 27th. To do that, candidates must hit 50,000 unique donors and 3% in two national polls or 3% one national poll and two early primary states.

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Let’s set the stage for tonight’s GOP debate:

  1. By 40 points, the country is going in the wrong direction.
  1. The focus will be – for many – raising their Name ID, reassuring staff & donors while gaining support in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Respective polling averages here via Real Clear Politics (IA,NH,SC):
  1. Bottom line – former President Trump is clearly the leader of a very large field; however, that lead was seriously under threat just six months ago. Who knew that felony indictments would create a lasting rise in polling?
  2. The candidates, especially Chris Christie, should focus their fire on Joe Biden. Republicans want to beat Biden. They’re angry and the candidates should reflect that. This is not the time and place for Happy Warrior platitudes.
  3. IF they bring up Trump, they should ONLY do it with humor. Humor is DEVASTATING in politics. Making fun of Trump is the better strategy. For instance, “Too bad Donald Trump couldn’t be here tonight, but he’s been detained. No, wait…that’s tomorrow” or “Speaking of Trump…he only recently became a Republican. Tomorrow he’s going to give a whole new meaning to…now, turn to the right…” or “Can I get a show of hands from my fellow debaters…and be honest…who’s never paid off a porn star?” (and I’m not even trying…but tip your wait staff…) The point is – getting folks laughing AT Trump vs. DEFENDING him.
  4. First the lower tier of candidates – North Dakota Doug Burgum, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and former VP Mike Pence (R – Too Honest). I don’t see any advancing very deep in the race. They are just too boring. Competent?Sure. Honest? Sure. A good person? Sure. But…what’s the sell here? Any BIG ideas? No. Burgum will be focused on his bio and getting name ID up. He has an outside shot at getting Iowa voters due to geographic/rural proximity. This is the No Mo Caucus. No momentum = no mo’ money and no mo’ votes.
  5. South Carolinians Tim Scott and Nikki Haley have a real shot at showing that they are up for the job. Both are very capable, likable, and have relatively low negatives heading into this debate. Like the first round of the NCAAs, they are looking to survive and advance. I don’t see either landing or taking a knockout punch. The GOP base needs to say about both, “I could see him or her being president.”
  6. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a lot to lose or gain tonight. He’s been the one candidate to go right at Trump and has been very impressive/persuasive according to those who have attended donor events. Whether that translates into voters FOR him or AGAINST Trump is the question. I think his attacks will hurt him and Trump. “He’s right, but I ain’t voting for him…” Tonight he should focus on Biden and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis if he wants to win more GOP votes.
  7. Vivek Ramaswamy has been the most interesting candidate to date. I heard him last summer at a conference in Atlanta. He’s good. Really good. Super smart. Energetic. BUT lately he has come across as just another pandering candidate who will say anything. 9/11 truther? Israel is just another Middle Eastern country? Abolish the FBI? Okay, REFORM the FBI, but closing it and reassigning their employees to other agencies is just not going to happen. His foreign policy ideas are naive and dangerously so. Still, I think he will impress those who have not seen him to date. Which he needs.
  8. And then there’s Ron DeSantis. Is tonight make or break? Already? Is it DeComeback or DeSinking? To me he seems like the injured antelope on the open plain while a pack of hyenas is circling… He really needs to come across as likable, strong, and…yes…presidential. If DeSantis focuses too much on his record, he will miss his chance to win the future. He should go after Biden, pivot off the attacks that will come his way tonight, and focus on helping folks in the early states – NOT Florida.
  9. Pumpkin Spice starts tomorrow at Starbucks and so does Round Two of the GOP March BACK to Milwaukee. Miracles and Big Ideas are clearly not forthcoming at this stage of Milwaukee Madness. Eight made the stage tonight, Hutchinson likely does not advance to the second round.


    Tonight’s winners will be those who have moved closer to the nomination.

    1. Trump – his lead won’t change and he’s another week closer to 1,234 delegates.
    2. Vivek – many will see him for the first time and will be very impressed.
    3. Scott – he’s the tortoise of this race. Slow, steady, and likable.
    4. Haley – will come across as being able to be president. Too many will think her likely spot is the Vice Presidency as the natural thought (in GOP base voter minds) will be taking on VP Kamala Harris in 2024 debates.
    5. DeSantis – he’s got a lot riding on tonight. My bet is that he will be lucky to hold serve and will not come across well.
    6. Christie, Pence, Hutchinson, and Burgum won’t really move the needle tonight. Christie’s negatives are too high now and Burgum’s name ID is too low to get traction on this crowded stage. Burgum, Pence, and Christie will advance.

Meanwhile, is there a Virginia Rich Strike coming along on the inside in 2024?


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