Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee will feature 12 candidates — eight on the mainstage and four on the undercard. But by the time the dust settles, four presidential candidates – Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Rand Paul – could be practically finished.
The four are already failing to gain traction among voters, according to Business Insider.
Paul and Fiorina barely made it onto the mainstage this evening, each commanding just 3 percent in voter polls.
Huckabee’s demotion to the undercard will be difficult for his campaign, which was a longshot bid to begin with and has failed to gain traction, to weather. And Santorum has a meager 0.8 percent support in polls and is reportedly low on cash.
That means all four must impresses big at the debate tonight, or else their campaigns could sink further. And a win from any of them seems unlikely.
Fiorina has been the only candidate of the four to draw serious national attention after a debate appearance. But her campaign, which seemed on the rise just weeks ago, has fallen fast out of favor with Republican voters.
With the fewest number of candidates on stage so far this primary season, all their rival candidates will have more time to make their individual cases and distinguish themselves from the four.
Debate host Fox Business Network is promising to focus on substantive issues, a response to those who accused last month’s CNBC debate of focusing too much on politics and “gotcha” questions. Some candidates should be careful what they ask for.
The last debate was a disaster for Jeb Bush, whose attack on rival Marco Rubio backfired and thrust his anemic candidacy into crisis mode. He launched a so-called comeback tour days later in a bus emblazoned with the unintentionally ironic slogan, “Jeb can fix it.” Based on his performance in the first three debates, the former Florida governor has a lot to fix.
He has struggled to be aggressive in previous debates and failed to stand out on policy, which should be his strength. The self-described introvert may never dominate in a debate of big personalities, but he’ll need to avoid another disaster if he expects to rescue his campaign. He can’t fix it all at once with a strong performance Tuesday, but he can give his comeback some badly needed momentum.
Ben Carson has faced a firestorm of controversy in recent days over questions about his background. Carson’s supporters have rallied around him in recent days and blamed the media for his troubles. And Carson’s campaign says the scrutiny has energized him as never before. It’s also pushed him to change his strategy. Aides say he’s planning to defend himself far more aggressively than he has in the first three meetings.
It’s unclear, however, whether the soft-spoken Carson can play the aggressor on a stage with more aggressive opponents. His bigger challenge Tuesday night could be policy. As a former neurosurgeon, Carson has little background with key issues such as economics, foreign policy, Social Security or national security.
Marco Rubio emerged from the last debate as one of the clear winners, yet questions remain about his ability to build upon his newfound momentum. Look for his opponents to do everything they can to stop him. Both Jeb Bush and Donald Trump have identified Rubio as their chief rival. Trump in particular has intensified attacks in recent days, calling Rubio “a lightweight choker” and “a highly overrated politician” in a series of tweets on the eve of the debate.
Rubio won a pointed exchange with Bush in the last meeting, but the target on his back is growing. To become a winner Tuesday night, he’ll have to respond to direct attacks from Trump, a far more skilled showman than Bush.
A quiet consensus is emerging among many Republicans that Ted Cruz is poised to become a major player in the 2016 contest. The freshman senator scored points in the last debate by lashing out at the moderators. But media bashing alone won’t give Cruz a path to his party’s nomination.
Cruz is courting the same bloc of voters now leaning toward Donald Trump and Ben Carson. To truly emerge as a top-tier candidate, he needs one of the two — if not both — to fall. Cruz has so far resisted attacking them publicly. With just two debates remaining before the Iowa caucuses, the Texas senator doesn’t have much time to make his move. Watch to see whether he continues to play nice or begins to distinguish himself from his outsider rivals.
The Associated Press contributed to this article