Sixth Republican Debate: Obama the Punching Bag

(DonkeyHotey/Flickr via Creative Commons)

The Republican candidates for president will debate for a sixth time on Thursday night from North Charleston, South Carolina, and their talking will not be limited to answering the questions — regardless of how hard the Fox Business News moderators may try. The candidates, or at least those who decide to participate, will take aim at President Obama (and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), and at one another, as they try to elevate their stature in the crowded field before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.

The primetime debate, which will start at 6 p.m. P.S.T., will include frontrunner Donald Trump, along with Sen. Ted Cruz—who’s currently leading polls in Iowa—Sen. Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Gov. John Kasich.

SEE ALSO: ICYMI: The Fourth GOP Debate

Sen. Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina have been kicked off the primetime stage, and Fiorina will face off against Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum at 3 p.m. P.S.T. In its morning email blast, Politico reported that Paul will not take part in the early debate.

Paul was moved due to his average in national polls, while Kasich was able to keep his primetime spot because of his New Hampshire polling. Both early state and national data were used in making placement decisions.

Regardless of timeslot, the candidates will likely unite against a collective enemy: Obama and Clinton. That is what happens when the president delivers the State of the Union in the crunch before Iowa. They will go after everything he said, probably focusing on some of the key points in the address: pre-kindergarten for all, two free years of community college, fighting climate change by increasing the use of green energy, the Affordable Care Act and the Islamic State.

The candidates think the government is already too big and that it wastes money, and consequently argue it’s impractical to put every child under the age of five through pre-k and offer two free years of community college to those who the president called “responsible student[s].” They’ll likely reason that paying for such services is not the people’s responsibility.

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They also do not believe in climate change, so they will say the president should be more worried about the Islamic State than the manmade danger that they think is a fallacy. The group will not want to get off coal, and they may cite cost. A 2013 study, however, found that wind power is cheaper than coal power, but let’s also not kid ourselves about the political implications of this. They do not want to turn the coal states away.

The group will also — no doubt — continue to go after the Affordable Care Act. Why not? Republicans across all factions cannot stand this piece of legislation. They may say that it takes away freedoms, that it hurts the economy and/or healthcare costs have increased.

The facts, however, tell a different story. In May of last year, a study found that 16.9 million people had gained healthcare as a result of the legislation. During his State of the Union, Obama said that number is almost 18 million, “And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.” He also said, “health care inflation has slowed.”

If they want to go after the economy — which was not a huge part of the speech — they will have a difficult time as well. According to the White House, the country has seen the two strongest years of job growth since 1998–2000, and 292,000 jobs were created in December. That brings the total to 14.1 million in 70 consecutive months.

They will, no doubt go after the Obama/Clinton foreign policy, which they believe led to the creation of the Islamic State. And they will probably criticize Obama (and Clinton) for not having an actual plan to go after the group and keep the homeland safe. Factually, though, that will not work during this debate as Obama called for an authorization to use military force against the Islamic State during the State of the Union.

SEE ALSO: SOTU: Obama Confronts U.S. Anxieties (Video)

After the candidates have tried to beat up Obama (and Clinton — whose race of her own just got a lot more competitive), what will they do to each other?

Trump will continue to go after everyone — including the moderator — with an emphasis on Cruz, the Evangelical leader who could win Iowa, and Bush. Why Bush? Because he is an easy target, and he has been the one of the real estate mogul’s main targets from the beginning. Why Cruz? Because he is a serious threat to Trump in the state, and if history repeats itself from 2008 and 2012, the Evangelical candidate will win the important early primary. What kinds of jabs will Trump sling? Surely stabs at Cruz’s Canadian birth will be among them; it is anyone’s guess what other insults Trump will pull out of his sleeves.

The businessman is capitalizing on people’s fears and anger with the establishment. They love when he knocks a traditional politician. Hence the reason he did not tank when conventional wisdom thought he would.

He is elevated above the rest of the establishment pack — whatever that may be in this election, so the members of that group—Rubio, Bush, Christie and Kasich—will all try to catch him. Bush is practically dead in the water, and Kasich is too moderate for all of the factions’ primary voters. That leaves the main fighting in this group between Rubio — who is trying hard to relate to the people and show his competency — and Christie, who has flexed his national security muscles by repeating the point that he had been a federal prosecutor.

Rubio will probably try to convince Bush’s supporters to come to him by touting his experience in the Senate, while his fellow Floridian has only been in state politics. That could come back to haunt him because of his Senate attendance record, but Bush’s message about being the governor of Florida has not proven too successful.

SEE ALSO: Democrats Highlight Subtle Distinctions In Third Primary Debate

Rubio, however, is probably the leader of this group because Christie had been so low for so long — not to mention that he is seen as low-energy — and Bush is unlikely to have a major bounce back.

That means Rubio needs to take on Cruz because the Texas senator has the Evangelical vote. Rubio will not be able to win that back, but he will be fighting with his colleague over the non-Evangelical voters who have not decided they are voting for Trump.

Cruz does not have to really worry about Carson — the other extremely religious canddiate on the primetime stage — because he is not credible on national security issues, which is sure to be a central theme. If he counters Trump’s birther argument, his key will to not be hit too hard — if at all.

More than likely, Trump and Cruz will be battling through the end of the debate over the non-Evangelical voters who are non-committed.

Reach News Editor Max Schwartz here; follow him on Twitter here.

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