The following three scenarios aren’t predictions as much as they are possible ways the debate will play out.
I’ll make another post with actual (and joke) predictions.
1) Bachmann and Romney double team Perry
Assuming Huntsman doesn’t gain traction in New Hampshire and that Sarah doesn’t enter the race, this thing basically comes down to Perry-Romney-Bachmann (in that order). Both Romney and Bachmann would rather take their chances against each other than have to claw their way up in a threesome with a clear dominatrix (Perry).
Sorry for those images.
Romney would be wise to attack from the middle, with a sort of “need someone with business experience” and (veiled) “not another Texan” attack. Bachmann would do best to attack from the right on immigration, where Perry’s stances are leftist compared to Tea Party orthodoxy.
Unless every single person on stage is unhappy with Perry, a double-team attack generally will come off as overly aggressive, elevating Perry as both a victim and as someone that can fend off an attack. Bachmann might be more willing to go on the attack than Romney, both because she needs to knock Perry down now in order to regain traction and because her attack on Pawlenty last debate, well, worked.
2) Ron Paul will be the harshest (and more credible) Perry critic of all
The Perry campaign already committed the cardinal sin of responding to an attack by a lesser candidate earlier this week when Paul (a Texas congressman, remember) began needling Perry. From Politico yesterday:
The 60-second spot, backed by a six-figure ad buy — the first negative ad attacking Perry to come directly out of a Republican campaign this primary season — contrasts Paul’s endorsement of Ronald Reagan in 1980 with Perry’s role as the Texas chairman for Gore’s first presidential campaign.
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It’s a rather transparent attempt by Paul to elevate his own stature by directly engaging the front-runner. And it’s working. Considering that the sparring largely centers around “who luvs Reagan more” and the fact that tonight’s debate takes place at the Reagan library, it is sure to come up again tonight.
Perry has made a name for himself with his strong projected confidence. But one person you don’t want to get into a confidence-off with is Ron Paul.
I suspect Paul tries to go after Perry but Perry will fend it off too well for it to matter. Perry is the Teflon Don of this election cycle.
3) Huntsman will be a surprise winner
Jon Huntsman may use the newly Perry-infused “who is more Tea Party-er then who” fight to further contrast himself as the smart and reasonable moderate in the race.
Huntsman was a bit shaky last debate, literally. His voice wavered a bit and his demeanor was more stiff than people expected. Whether on purpose or not, this lowered debate expectations for him moving forward. If he shows up brimming with confidence and charm, he immediately will make a splash.
The splash would only lead to jumping from 1% in polls to 5% in the polls, but he’ll take what he can get. Huntsman has deep pockets and will not drop out until after the New Hampshire primary in February. He’s playing the long game, but has to gain minimal traction some point soon to stay relevant through the holiday season this fall.
He should talk about motorcycles. And point out that Romney’s rhetoric on China is inflammatory, painting Romney as a Wall Street type with no (real) conception of world dynamics while Huntsman tries to portray himself as the do-it-all ex-Governor. The Harley Davidson globetrotter statesman. Better than being “the other Mormon”.
It would take some serious gaffes by the other candidates or an untoward Perry-Bachmann cat fight for Huntsman to legitimately be considered as a debate winner. Considering the whole night will probably be a Reagan lovefest, I doubt Huntsman will get a chance to stake a claim as the moderate (Reagan-esque) candidate compared to the others on stage.