David Webb: Who will win the debates?

David Webb: Who will win the debates?
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I wonder what Drew Carey, Cleveland’s first son of comedy, would say about the first Republican presidential primary debates, hosted by Fox News and Facebook in conjunction with the Ohio Republican Party. Forget that he’s a liberal — comedy takes real life, serious as this is for the nation, to the absurd. 

The Fox News/Facebook debates will be held at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the official start of a full-blown campaign season. This is also the location of the 2016 Republican national convention next summer. 


The debate about how candidates are chosen to participate is a distraction. Fact is, they cannot put 17 candidates on one stage. This is — and should be — a political meritocracy, devoid of the sour-grapes arguments made by some candidates who will not make the top 10. 

In the 9 p.m. debate, moderated by Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, much of the audience’s attention will focus on businessman Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE. The question is, which Donald will arrive on stage? Will it be the outspoken Trump as the world knows him or will we see a more nuanced candidate? I’m betting on a mixture of both. 

Trump is leading in a variety of polls and slated for the center seat, with candidates Jeb Bush and Scott Walker likely to be on either side. The rest of the stage will be placed according to their polling, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich occupying the outer podiums. 

All — especially the establishment candidates — have to distinguish themselves as champions of Main Street and the middle class. They must also demonstrate how they will foster an environment where the current poor or economically stressed middle class on the verge of becoming poor have a chance to make it into the solid middle class. They have to counter the politics of envy from Hillary Clinton and the socialist left. 

For Bush, a former Florida governor, his best approach will be to stay above the fray and focus on substance. Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, has to step out of his state-based narrative and onto the national stage convincingly. I predict, and I rarely do that, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson will be a calm voice. This does not mean he lacks passion. 

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) have to compete more with one another. They’re not really in a position for a takedown of the top-tier candidates, but they do need to gain ground, and red meat statements are not enough. 

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a chance for a new political beginning. In politics, anything is possible. 

The second stage, poll-wise, is the first stage time-wise. The 5 p.m. debate, under the helm of Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer, offers an advantage to the candidates who participate. Their respective teams can record, edit and deliver a media and social media onslaught to maximize their appearance in the hours before the 9 p.m. debate. Money can be raised through social media and grassroots engagement. This is a part of the follow through after a debate. 

These second-tier candidates must provide substance in order to have carry-forward appeal to the Republican Party base. Broad statements will not suffice if they wish to expand their appeal beyond their core supporters. Out of this group, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are likely to be the standouts. 

The media, including social media, is vital for all candidates to take advantage post-debate. This is a partnership with Facebook, which presents the opportunity for a huge social media blitz. All candidates can present their policies to the nation and world with Facebook’s global reach. Global matters, especially on issues of foreign policy and economics, can be maximized. 

There is a cold political winter ahead. We could see a spring thaw with five to eight candidates remaining. After Cleveland, the inevitable response in attacks from the leftist media, Clinton’s campaign and even the White House will ensue. Let the political fervor begin.

Webb is host of “The David Webb Show” on SiriusXM Patriot 125, a Fox News contributor and has appeared frequently on television as a commentator. Webb co-founded TeaParty365 in New York City and is a spokesman for the National Tea Party Federation. His column appears twice a month in The Hill.

This column has been updated from its original version.