FixGov looks ahead to the first GOP presidential debate

Tomorrow will kick off debate season in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential race. Republican presidential hopefuls will come together in Cleveland, Ohio, in two debates. One will feature the top 10 highest polling candidates for office including frontrunner Donald Trump, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and seven of their brethren. The other debate will feature the remaining GOP candidates who are often largely qualified, but polling poorly. Despite the accommodation of the also-rans (or also-runnings) most focus will be on the first debate.

The debate hosted by Fox News will offer red meat for Republican primary voters, likely including discussions of health care, foreign affairs, deficits and debt, gun rights, and pointed critiques of the nation’s two most prominent Democrats: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In addition, the debate will offer most Republican (and Democratic and Independent) voters their first look at many candidates on the national stage.

Most people know Donald Trump from his trademark phrase, “you’re fired” but the nation will now have the opportunity to see Donald Trump the politician. Ohioans know their governor John Kasich, but soon the national will get to know the Buckeye State’s chief executive. Each candidate will show their debate skills (or weaknesses) as well as their preparedness for the campaign (or the areas they need to brush up).

Will the debate be a pile-on against Democrats? Will it be a showcase of Republican Party divisions? Will it give someone unexpected the opportunity to look truly presidential, stand out from the pack, and surge ahead in the polls? Will voters ultimately be left unsated, hoping their hunger for a new political powerhouse will emerge in the next debate?

To look ahead to the first GOP presidential debate, FixGov has put together a top notch group to discuss what to expect. A group of scholars from inside and outside of Brookings will look at the candidates, the issues, and what it will take to win (or lose) tomorrow night. Our bloggers will look at a variety of perspectives, and in one case, one of Governance Studies’ newest Fellow, Molly Reynolds, will make her debut on FixGov analyzing how well candidates will be able to work with Congress.

Finally, in a first for Brookings blogs, FixGov will rely on an underutilized resource at our institution: our stellar communications staff. I asked them to offer advice as to what they would tell candidates, if they were their communications handlers. What would be an effective strategy; what types of messages and behaviors to embrace of avoid. Brookings is blessed with some of the most talented communications colleagues in Washington and their perspective is as invaluable as it is insightful. We are grateful to our communications colleagues for providing advice and counsel on a daily basis, and we are thrilled to have them offer their expertise on FixGov.

All that said, pop some popcorn; enjoy the debates; and listen closely because the person you’re hearing from at any given moment may well be your next commander-in-chief.