Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
Tonight, for the first time since the start of this freewheeling Republican primary, all the contenders will fit onto one debate stage simultaneously. For that, thank the first two contests, which culled the field to six candidates. Or five, if you don’t count Ben Carson, who will nevertheless be physically present for the showdown in Greenville, South Carolina, along with frontrunner Donal Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. The Palmetto State primary next Saturday promises to further narrow the competition. Here are a few things we’ll be watching for during the debate, the last before the state votes.
Can Trump neutralize Cruz?
The night’s marquis matchup pits Cruz, the Iowa victor, against Trump, who just won his first-ever election, in New Hampshire. The last time these two clashed on a South Carolina debate stage — roughly a month ago — Trump demonstrated surprising agility by redirecting a Cruz jab at his “New York values” into a stirring recollection of the city’s resilience following the 9/11 attacks. But Trump is usually strongest on offense, as he demonstrated late this week by accusing the Cruz campaign of launching misleading robo-polls in South Carolina. Trump evidently believes he’s identified Cruz’s soft underbelly — that he’s untrustworthy — and will keep stabbing at it. Yet Cruz himself is a world-class debater. Look for him to continue his bid to frame Trump as an establishment-friendly opportunist only posing as a conservative.
How does Rubio handle the pressure?
The Florida senator’s spectacular flop in the last debate sapped the momentum he’d built heading out of Iowa and dropped him to a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, where he’d aimed to come in second. Now the candidate who looked to be consolidating establishment support following the Iowa caucuses needs to scrap his way back. Rubio has raised the bar for himself by acknowledging his self-inflicted damage and pledging never to repeat it. And he changed strategy this week, launching unprompted attacks from the stump at his Republican rivals. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who savaged Rubio in the last debate, dropped out on Wednesday. But will Rubio manage to land punches on his remaining rivals without losing his balance?
Do the other two establishment contenders make a move?
The Bush family has a long history in the state, and George W. Bush is primed to hit the trail there on his brother’s behalf, a first in this cycle. Yet Jeb trails Rubio and probably needs to finish ahead of him to stay in the race. Kasich placed a strong second in New Hampshire but lags behind even Carson in South Carolina, where he’s lacked a presence. To varying degrees, both Bush and Kasich have tried to wage more positive campaigns, at least personally. The urgency of the circumstances could prompt one or both to reconsider.
The debate, hosted by CBS, is scheduled to start at 9 pm EST and run 90 minutes.
• Turns out no one likes banks
Perhaps the biggest villain that has emerged in this election cycle has been the financial industry, which has been attacked from both sides in the presidential race. Now even the chair of the Senate Banking Committee is getting in on the act. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has put out a number of ads attacking Wall Street has he fends off a Tea Party challenger in the primary. Bloomberg Politics
• Clinton homes in on Sanders
After a difficult few weeks, Hillary Clinton is looking to finally get back on track the the nomination that even six months ago seemed like a foregone conclusion. She and her supporters are tying themselves strongly to President Obama, hopeful that those still loyal to the President will embrace her. They are running ads painting Bernie Sanders as a man whose plans are unrealistic, and they’re looking to shore up their support in communities of color. New York Times
• Paul Ryan wants a budget
With the campaign in full swing, its easy to forget what’s happening on the Hill, but things are getting testy there too. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told his rank-and-file members this week that he wants to pass a budget to allow the House to move past the stalemate and act on other parts of the conservative agenda. Politico
Around the Water Cooler
• Ted Cruz channels Office Space
The latest advertisement from the Ted Cruz campaign is a pretty funny parody of the cult classic movie “Office Space.” Instead of destroying a finicky office machine, though, it shows Hillary Clinton aides destroying her e-mail server. This may go down as one of the best ads we’ll see this campaign season. 'Politico
• Bernie’s finger is getting attention
If you watch Bernie Sanders on the debate stage, once thing keeps jumping out at you — he sure loves to wag his finger a lot. He’s almost Dikembe Mutombo-esque in the way he shakes his digit when he feels like he’s being wronged or his opponent is spreading a lie about him. Some are giving him flack for wag, calling it sexist. The Washington Post
• Somehow Henry Kissinger is back in the news
The strangest thing to come up in Thursday night’s debate was likely an extended discussion of the merit’s of advice from Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Secretary of State. Though Clinton stresses that asking him for advice on one subject, in this case China, isn’t tantamount to endorsing him as a leader, some are making the point that she shouldn’t get too close to a man hated on the left in an election where she is losing progressive support. MSNBC