Monday, January 11th
by Reed Galen
Days Until Iowa Caucus: 21
Quote by A Smart Person: "Once you agree upon the price you and your family must pay for success, it enables you to ignore the minor hurts, the opponent's pressure, and the temporary failures." Vince Lombardi
Welcome to the American Singularity.
The American Singularity – Insert: GOP Palmetto State Debate (Preview)
On Thursday night in North Charleston, South Carolina, the remaining Republican candidates for president will gather for their first debate in a month. Some of the aspirants have risen (Christie) others have decided their opportunity no longer existed (Pataki, Graham) and some on still hanging on for dear life.
Unlike the debates up to now where candidates of a respective “lane” pretty much left one another along, as of Christmas Day, the gloves are off. With only a month to go, the realities of facing voters have heightened the tension of candidates, the frenetic activity of campaigns and the attention of the electorate. Not everyone can have a breakout moment on Thursday. Neither will all of them collapse on stage.
However, with Caucus Day approaching, every mistake or misstep is magnified and for candidates – leading and trailing alike, a bad debate can serve as an analog for the media, donors and voters of whether the leaders are really that strong and if the lower-tier campaigns have any real shot at winning Iowa or New Hampshire, let alone the nomination.
Debating in Dixie
While the American South makes up the deepest base of support for the Republican Party, this will be a rare occasion in the Palmetto State when all of the candidates are in one place at one time. For those in third, fourth or fifth place in the first two primary contests, they may see South Carolina as a chance to renew their hopes.
South Carolina has an interesting mix of old south tradition, large veteran and active-duty military communities and wealthy retirees who’ve left the wintry (and expensive) Northeast and Midwest for the warmth and low cost-of-living of Coastal Carolina. It has three distinct regions and a healthy manufacturing base. Even among Republicans, it has a more diverse electorate – some as conservative as those in Iowa, others as moderate as Granite Staters. It’s the first state where a candidate has to make their pitch to uber-conservative Upstaters and more moderate Low Country residents.
Gangs of New York
Friends on multiple campaigns have referred to the current campaign phase as a “knife fight” or “hand to hand” combat. The conflict taking place on the ground in early states will likely translate to the stage on Thursday night as candidates take incoming fire and attack multiple opponents in an attempt to climb atop the heap. Whatever questions the moderators may ask will likely end up with the respondent taking 15 seconds giving their position and the next 45 attacking the record of another candidate.
This cycle has clearly shown which candidates are better suited for this sort of melee. Donald Trump has been calling out his opponents with over-the-top opponents since August. Marco Rubio has been convincing with his parry and thrust style. Chris Christie takes advantage of the ridiculousness of the process and questions. Ted Cruz knows how to debate and weaves his narrative to match the voters with whom he’s communicating.
For candidates and their campaigns, there are no more days off. The prospective president has a full daily schedule that always manages to squeeze in one more radio interview or donor call. The political shop is deploying volunteers to early states as voters make their final decisions. The strategy and ad teams are hoping to find that one brilliant message that will break through the cacophony of political noise that fills the air waves from dawn ‘til well after dusk.
But the debates continue – and they continue to require much of the full attention of the candidate and the most senior members of the staff. This is what makes this period of the cycle so indicative of who can ultimately win and who will assuredly lose. A good campaign must be able to handle four straight weeks of get out the vote (GOTV) efforts across multiple states while shifting resources on the fly to ensure the best use of funds all while ensuring not one moment of the candidate’s time is wasted. Thursday night is the beginning of the end of this sprint. As Richard Ben Kramer so eloquently wrote in his magnum opus, it will soon become clear who has What It Takes.