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Monday, December 5, 2016

It’s the big day: The first Republican primary debates — two of them — will be aired on Fox News Thursday night. So what are the candidates doing to get ready?

Fox is hosting two debates, just to accommodate an unprecedented field of contenders. The first (5 p.m. ET) is for the bottom seven candidates in the national polls — an event that has been variously described as the “kids’ table,” the “minor league,” or the “warmup debate.” (And one of the participants is also trying to popularize another name, as shown below.)

Then at 9 p.m. comes the main event: the primetime debate for the top 10 candidates — most notably Donald Trump, who sits comfortably at no. 1 in the polls through a combination of celebrity and sheer bellicosity. And everyone is preparing for the debate in their own way.

Several candidates in the both the major- and minor-league showdowns appeared in a video for IJReview, showing their pre-debate rituals: Jeb Bush calls his mom; Marco Rubio talks to Siri; Carly Fiorina plays solitaire on her phone; Scott Walker puts his phone down and goes jogging — and George Pataki seems to be auditioning for a Snapple commercial.

But the best nugget from a main debate competitor belongs to Ben Carson: “I take these hundreds of pieces of paper, because they have all the advice that people have given me about what to say during the debate — and light them on fire. I’m gonna be me. So whatever comes out, it’s me.”

And from the opening act debate, Lindsey Graham: “I take my new phone — thanks to The Donald — I listen to Motown, to mellow me off.”

Trump himself appeared Tuesday night on The O’Reilly Factor, after the debate lineup was announced, and said that his strategy for the debate will simply be to be himself (it’s worked so far!) — while at the same time saying that he wouldn’t necessarily single out other candidates (like Jeb Bush, for example) and attack them.

“I don’t know if I’d do that. I want to be right down the middle. I want to talk about policy, I want to talk about the wall, I want to talk about illegal immigration. I want to talk about bad trade deals. I may say that I can negotiate deals better than any of these folks — I did write The Art of the Deal, I built a phenomenal business, as you know — and you know, I have certain abilities that they do not have.”

But of course, if other candidates attack him, then he’ll just have to hit them right back.

Ben Carson also spoke to O’Reilly on Wednesday night, and did admit one accommodation he’ll have to make for the debate: Because of the time limits, he will talk a little faster than usual.

Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham is promoting the warmup debate as the real one to watch for substance — because Donald Trump won’t be in it. (Because if there’s a debate that doesn’t matter, it’s the one with the guy who’s leading in all the polls.) And Graham is even trying to sell a new hashtag for the 5 p.m. event: the “Happy Hour Debate.”

Some other “Happy Hour” candidates are also promoting it as a serious debate — though a bit more subtly, and without directly talking about The Donald. Take this tweet from Rick Perry, the man who came in 11th place in the polls and just missed out on that last podium for the main event:

Photo: Elephants performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri, November 8, 2008. (via Wikimedia Commons)

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