Voters are going to get their first real glimpse of the crowded Republican field for president tonight when Fox News hosts the first official debate of the 2016 presidential campaign season.
With 17 candidates vying for position, Fox has broken the field down into two groups. The first group, which will take the main stage at 9 p.m. tonight, consists of the top 10 candidates as determined by averaging five well known national polls. The second tier group, which is everyone else, will get a chance to answer questions in a forum that will air beginning at 5 p.m.
Despite the complaints from candidates about the debate criteria—mostly from those in the second tier—Fox News will emerge as the big winner. Their ratings are expected to set a record, largely thanks to the presence of billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who has shocked the establishment by rising to the top of the polls.
While Trump’s presence will undoubtedly attract viewers—including those who aren’t that interested in politics—there is also the risk that he won’t be able to adequately defend his positions under questioning from the media. On the other hand, just being Trump, he could also garner enough attention to make the other candidates appear invisible by comparison. That could ultimately prove to be an advantage to the second tier candidates.
Tonight will also be an opportunity to see if the Republican Party learned its lesson from 2012, when they allowed debating candidates to beat each other up, and in effect, doing the opposition research for the Democrats. The result was the nomination of a weakened Mitt Romney to face Obama.
If the Republicans are serious about winning the White House in 2016, then this and all future debates should focus more on failed Democratic policies and Hillary Clinton, and less on the flaws of the large GOP field.
We will be live tweeting tonight’s debate @donirvine and @AccuracyinMedia.