CNBC will be hosting the next two Republican presidential debates at 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. Eastern respectively. Jindal, Santorum, Graham, and Pataki continue to be relegated to the first debate, and none of them is likely to gain enough support to escape from that limbo anytime soon. The other ten candidates will be participating in the main debate later in the evening. The theme of the night is supposed to be the economy, but there will presumably be some questions touching on trade and international affairs in connection with that.
I expect that the candidates will be asked about their support or opposition for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the TTIP, which could produce some interesting clashes between most of the candidates and the would-be trade skeptic Trump. Considering that Republicans are currently inclined to skepticism about the benefits of trade agreements, the supporters of these agreements are unlikely to win much support on this issue. We can assume that most of the candidates with jostle with one another to boast about their respective plans for tax cuts and economic growth as a magical solution for all fiscal problems. Trump will probably tout his proposal to cut the top income tax rate to 25%, and Rubio may find himself on the defensive for supporting a 35% top rate. Bush will probably tout his unrealistic 4% growth idea.
The moderators will almost certainly ask about the looming matter of raising the debt ceiling, which will give Carson another opportunity to demonstrate that he doesn’t understand what the debt ceiling is. Paul has already stated that he intends to filibuster the debt ceiling bill. That gives him something to talk about during the debate, but it also puts him in a position to defend what is ultimately an untenable position.
I would like to hear the candidates debate the wisdom and efficacy of economic sanctions tonight, but I doubt that is going to happen. Almost all of the candidates support punitive economic measures against foreign governments, and this could potentially be an opening for Paul to challenge the party’s consensus in favor of trying to harm other countries’ economies, but this subject will probably receive little or no attention. On foreign policy, we can expect Trump and Bush to continue their feud over George W. Bush’s legacy and national security more generally. Most of the other candidates will probably side with Bush on this, but in so doing they will be tying themselves to the former president’s record.
Trump is likely to be at his most obnoxious on economic issues, since he will cite his business experience as proof that he has greater understanding of these issues than any of the other candidates. That could set up another quarrel between him and Fiorina, or it could force the rest of the field to gang up on him to argue that he has no grasp of relevant policy issues. The debates will not be illuminating, and they are unlikely to be entertaining, but they may at least force a few of the weaker candidates to give up sooner rather than later.
P.S. I plan to be covering both debates on Twitter (@DanielLarison), so check in to see what I’m saying there and here on the blog later on.