Republicans gather in Boulder, Colorado tonight where they will stage their third presidential debate.
Tonight’s event will be held under very different circumstances than the previous two.
For the first time in the 100+ plus days of this campaign season, Donald Trump is no longer leading in all the polls. Ben Carson, the man whose political success remains an enigma, now leads Trump in Iowa. Jeb Bush, the odds on favorite back in June, faces the very real possibility that his run may be over. Latino conservative Republicans have issued an ultimatum to Party leaders. The US government just announced a controversial new military strategy in Iraq and Syria. And finally, today the House is expected to take up a vote on a “bi-partisan” two year budget that has inflamed the divisiveness within the Party ranks.
Here is what I’ll be looking for this evening.
TRUMP – Four respected telephone polls have Trump now trailing Carson in Iowa. The most recent CBS/NYT poll has Carson leading Trump nationally. Trump doesn’t like being challenged. His modus operandi is to attack whomever his closest competitor may happen to be. Most of the attacks are personal. Nothing is off limits. I expect Trump to go hard and often at Carson. I’ll be curious to see how he goes about it and how that plays with voters in the post-debate polling.
CARSON – Anyone who knows competition knows that it is harder being the “hunted” than being the “hunter”. For the first time since announcing his campaign; Ben Carson enters tonight’s festivities as the frontrunner. Trump will certainly go after him. I expect others on stage to do the same. Part of Carson’s appeal to voters is his calm soft spoken demeanor. I’ll be watching to see how he responds to the pressure.
“JEB!” – The “Jeb!” campaign is in trouble. The campaign is hemorrhaging money and laying off staff. When last seen the once presumptive nominee was going off on a petulant rant against voters for rewarding those who based their campaigns on divisiveness versus the issues. He told voters that he had: “Lots of cool things I could be doing rather than sitting around being miserable...” “Jeb!” recently retreated to Houston where a “campaign reset” summit was held. “Jeb!” was joined there by Bush 41, Bush 43, and a host of major donors and advisors. Trump, who gets under “Jeb’s!” skin like nobody else, accused “Jeb!” of “running home to mommy and daddy.” Clearly the Bush brain trust understands that they are at a critical moment in the campaign. Cleary they understand that their candidate’s performance tonight will be pivotal for any chance of success moving forward. I’ll be watching to see how this “campaign reset” plays out tonight.
LATINOS – Yesterday, the American Principles Projects Latino Partnership, a coalition of influential conservative Latino Republicans issued a stern warning to the Republican Party…elect Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric and you are on your own. “Heed our warning: don’t expect us to come to your side during the general election. If you are not with us now, we won’t to be with you then. If you insult us now, we will be deaf to you then. If you take us for granted now, we will not recognize you then.” That warning was issued by Rosario Martin: former Treasury Secretary to George W. Bush. Ms. Martin’s statement came as reports from Washington seemed to say that regardless of the candidate the GOP led congress will not be moving to enact immigration reform legislation any time soon. There are reports that Paul Ryan agreed not to bring immigration reform to the floor “under this current president” as a condition to receiving Freedom Caucus’ support for his run at the Speakership. I expect immigration reform to come up in tonight’s debate and I’ll be watching to see how Trump and the other candidates respond to these specific events.
FOREIGN POLICY – Last week Kurdish forces stormed an ISIS prison in Iraq for the purpose of rescuing 75 prisoners who had been condemned to death. The raid went badly and US Special Ops forces were called in to assist. The prisoners were rescued but one American: Master Sargent Joshua L. Wheeler was killed in the battle. Master Sgt. Wheeler was serving his 14th deployment. Earlier this week in testimony before the Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Ash Carter informed the committee of what amounts to change in military strategy in the heretofore undeclared war to defeat ISIS. Carter told the committee that US Special Ops forces would be “supporting capable partners” as happened in the attack on the ISIS prison. He also said that the Special Ops forces would be “conducting such missions directly” which opens the door for US forces to take the fight to ISIS on their own. The Obama administration has repeatedly beat back any notion of US boots on the ground in a “combat” role. Now the DOD is saying that US troops will be conducting ground operations against ISIS both in support of and independent from our coalition partners…in both Iraq and Syria. This is a major shift in US policy that has received little scrutiny from the media. I will be watching to see how the candidates deal with it tonight. Assuming of course that it even comes up.
BUDGET – Speaker Boehner and the White House have cobbled together a two year budget agreement. The deal heads off what could have been two contentious future votes to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government. The question is cannot pass through congress. Fiscal conservatives in both the House and Senate hate it because it increases government spending by $80+ billion. Dems hate it because it reduces entitlement disability benefits. The fact that both sides are pissed off means that everyone must give a little to move things forward. The bill will be placed on the House floor for a vote, today. Its’ passage or failure is certain to result in a lively discussion tonight.