Underdogs will fight to stand out at second GOP debate, say debate experts

Sept. 15, 2015

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Megan McRainey
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The second Republican debate on Sept. 16 will bring more urgency for all the candidates polling well below front-runners Ben Carson and Donald Trump to stand out from the crowd, according to coaches for Emory University's nationally ranked debate team and its Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education.

Ed Lee is the senior director of debate in the Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education at Emory, where he has been a debate coach since 2004 and received national recognition for his work.

Lee says, “Jeb Bush seems to in a place were he can no longer ignore Trump. He can derail Trump by speaking to the economic absurdity of his immigration proposal. I am just not sure he benefits by weakening Trump. I don't think Bush can continue to rely on the notion that he is the inevitable nominee and needs to remain clean for the general election.”

“Ben Carson is an increasingly attractive anti-government/anti-establishment candidate. The lack of media time is working in his favor … But what happens when he gets questions about governance and policy?” Lee says.

“Carly Fiorino has the opportunity to change the dynamics of the race. She can make a great argument about being the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton. She can close the gender gap and appeal to the anti- government crowd who believes the private sector can do a better job with the economy than politicians,” Lee says. 

Bill Newnam, associate director of forensics for the Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education at Emory and debate coach since 1982, is a state and national media commentator on political debates.

Newnam says, “Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio expected to be competing to be at the top of the polls by now and instead, after the last debate, they have both lost ground. Governor Kasich was expected to the mainstream alternative. Generally, he was praised for his debate performance but failed to build on that performance after the debate. And Governor Walker was expecting to make a splash as an effective conservative leader in a swing state, but instead has had multiple stumbles.        

“Carly Fiorina has to have a strong performance to show that she belongs on the stage with the competitive candidates. The offensive Trump attack on Fiorina might give her that opportunity because the questioners will try to push that conflict between the two. If it is possible to anticipate, in advance, a dramatic moment in a debate that moment might well occur when Trump is pressed to apologize and she is pressed to respond,” says Newnam.

“The large roundtable debate makes it very difficult for any one individual to stand out. If the debate draws a similarly large audience to the first debate, then the format is more likely to solidify existing positions of the candidates than it is to result in a major shake-up in the their current support. If, as is likely, Trump, Carson and Fiorina (due to Trump’s comments) dominate the event then there is not likely to be much change in current trends unless one of them stumbles badly,” Newnam says.