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4 things to watch for in tonight’s Republican debate

October 28, 2015, 4:23 PM UTC
Donald Trump and Jeb Bush at CNN’s Republican presidential debate in September
Donald Trump and Jeb Bush at CNN’s Republican presidential debate in September
Photograph by Max Whittaker — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The third major debate of the Republican presidential campaign happens tonight in Boulder, Colo., and it’ll be the first one where Donald Trump isn’t the out-and-out leader in the polls. He’s recently fallen behind Dr. Ben Carson both in Iowa and nationally. The debate airs on CNBC and will focus on the economy, which has sometimes taken a backseat to higher-profile issues like immigration and national security in the previous clashes. With that in mind, here are four things to watch for during tonight’s showdown:

1. The taxman

Some candidates, like Ted Cruz, have pushed for a flat tax, which gets rid of marginal rates and taxes every American the same amount. Others, like Donald Trump, have argued for keeping the current system and reforming loopholes for corporations. It seems unlikely that we’ll get any comprehensive plans for a corporate tax reform from any candidate, both because time is limited and details of those plans tend not to make great television.

2. Shutdown or shut up

This week congressional Republicans and President Obama came to a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid a potential government shutdown. But many on the conservative side of the aisle are not happy about it, including Marco Rubio. Expect CNBC’s moderators to try and find out who supports the agreement and who wishes a shutdown had occurred. This could be a big moment for Ted Cruz, who made his bones as an obstructionist in the Senate. If he answers the shutdown question well, it could galvanize conservative support around him.

3. Talking entitlements

In recent days, Trump has accused Carson of wanting to axe Social Security and Medicaid altogether—a charge Carson denies, but which would likely win him some supporters in the Tea Party wing of the Republican party. The role of entitlements in the economy and how to reform them could spur serious debate between more conservative candidates like Ted Cruz and moderates like John Kasich. Obamacare will of course come up, and while it’s a sure bet that every Republican will condemn it, don’t expect anyone to present a detailed plan of what could replace it.

4. Banks, banks, banks

This being CNBC, it’d be shocking if the Financial Crisis and the banking system weren’t discussed. Where candidates will place the blame for the 2008 meltdown and its aftermath will be a good signal of how they’d control financial regulators if they’re elected president. Jeb Bush has said he supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program that kept banks from going under. Cruz, meanwhile, has said he is against bailouts.