Tonight's Debate

Cal Thomas & Bob Beckel handicap the Thursday debate lineup.

Today: GOP Field

Donald Trump
CAL: He has tapped into growing voter anger about the failure of government to do anything well. Trump must offer specifics on domestic and foreign policy. I’d also like to know how and why he converted from pro-choice to pro-life in 2011. He has changed positions on other issues. Expediency or “conversion”? Question: You talk tough about world leaders you say you would confront, but why should any of them, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chinese, respect you?

BOB: Trump is doing well, not for who he is or what he stands for, but rather for who he isn’t and what he’s against. Trump has captured the mood of many Republican voters who are fed up with politicians in Washington, including GOP members of Congress, and want Congress to know it. Trump does that for them. Conservative voters are frustrated that Obamacare is still alive and that more undocumented workers continue to cross the border. Trump is against Obamacare and for sealing the border. What’s not to like?

Jeb Bush

CAL: He should reiterate he is not his father or brother and say how a Bush (III) presidency will be different from the other Presidents Bush. Make a convincing case for immigration reform that includes a plan to first stem the tide of illegal aliens flooding our borders. “Compassion” won’t cut it. Most conservatives want it stopped. He also must convince voters why he thinks the federal government through Common Core can do a better job educating kids than locals. Question: What does “conservative” mean to you in terms of policy, and what are some issues on which you would never compromise?

BOB: He can run, but he can’t hide from it. Jeb needs to achieve two goals. The first is to get by Iowa and New Hampshire. To do that he needs to stand firm on pro-life issues and small government. He has already broken with George W. on Iraq, which is good, but he cannot be soft on immigration. Once he gets by the first two states, the field will shrink, and he can get to South Carolina and Florida, where he needs to put away Sen. Marco Rubio.

Scott Walker

CAL: The base loves him because he stood up to massive union money and outside groups coming into Wisconsin attempting to stop his efforts to break public unions. According to the latest publicpolicypolling.com survey, Walker is favored by 17% of GOP voters, just behind Trump’s 19% and ahead of Bush’s 12%. Question: The last time there was a Republican president and a Republican Congress, relatively little got done. What would your top priorities be with a GOP Congress, and how would you get them through?

BOB: Many love him in Iowa because he is a neighbor, but he should beware. He will need to win Iowa big to get momentum going into New Hampshire, where his anti-union positions will largely be welcomed. I managed Fritz Mondale’s presidential campaign and they loved him in Iowa, where he won almost 50% against a large Democratic field and went on to lose New Hampshire. On every question, try to work in an Iowa angle. Iowans will be watching!

Marco Rubio

CAL: Push any button from foreign to domestic policy and Rubio instantly “plays back” a stream of sound bites loaded with statistics and history. He represents a new generation and could say with credibility that older people have had their chance, let’s try something new — him. Question: You have spoken of the need for Social Security and Medicare reform. George W. Bush tried Social Security reform and was demagogued by the left into submission. How would you reform those programs and respond to heat from Democrats and the news media about “killing granny”?

BOB: That’s an excellent question, because Social Security and Medicare reform has backfired almost every time it has been suggested. The problem Rubio has by emphasizing the “new generation” is that GOP primary voters skew older than the national median age, And they vote. Work into the debate the contributions of older Americans and your determination to protect them. Rubio has lots of senior support. Put them on buses and send them to Iowa and New Hampshire. No charge for the advice, Senator.

Ted Cruz

CAL: Gets credit from the base for his 21-hour speech on the Senate floor against Obamacare. Openly Christian. Disliked by members of both parties in the Senate (not necessarily a negative because much of the country dislikes all of Congress). Question: According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, “One-fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated.” How do you reach these people who might be turned off by you religious zeal?

BOB: Sure, Cruz gets some credit for his filibuster — Obamacare has survived and is gaining popularity. Candidates for president who wear their faith on their sleeves are treading in dangerous waters. The conservative religious community may not doubt Cruz’s faith, but it cannot believe he will win. A good question for the senator: You have been firm on issues you oppose, what issues do you like that have been ignored by Washington?

Rand Paul

CAL: Strong libertarian/conservative. Gets some support because of his father, Ron Paul. Must explain why he is reluctant to confront enemies like the Islamic State and Iran. Question: If you knew that Iran was about to finish a nuclear weapon and a ballistic missile to deliver it, what would you do to stop them? A follow-up question: If you wait until we are attacked before confronting our enemies, won’t it be too late?

BOB:Many people, including Republican voters, believe that the U.S. has spilled enough blood and treasure in overseas conflicts. Voters don’t get up each day and think about Iran. They think about the needs here at home and want their leaders to address them. If asked about the U.S. role overseas, Paul should be firm on his insistence that we not play world cop and focus on America’s needs.

Chris Christie

CAL: If Christie’s first years as New Jersey governor were a political honeymoon, these days it’s more like a separation agreement. Positives: Great speaker with strong stage presence; disciplined enough to take advice and lose weight; high name recognition. Negatives: See first sentence. Question: What happened?

BOB: Chris Christie’s problem is Chris Christie. I agree he’s an exciting speaker, and his “in your face” approach to campaigning reflects the mood of Republican-base voters. The problem is Christie is really a moderate from New Jersey, and in GOP primary politics, moderates need not apply. He also has a trust problem. The George Washington Bridge scandal has tainted Christie’s reputation for truth-telling —although he has never faced charges. And in 2012, according to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book Double Down, Christie did not fill out all his background forms when Mitt Romney was considering Christie for vice president. Wonder why?

John Kasich

CAL: He has a good record as Ohio governor. The economy has had a major turnaround. Unemployment is down. The conservative base doesn’t like his support of Medicaid expansion, and he has backed Common Core. He also has the irritating habit of lecturing fellow Republicans.

BOB: I spoke to Kasich on Sunday night. He called to wish me a fast recovery from my back operation. He was in New Hampshire and he was feeling good about making the debate cut. Kasich has had a solid record as Ohio’s governor and he’s a good campaigner. My question is he conservative enough for the GOP base?

Mike Huckabee & Ben Carson, 

CAL: I put them together because they basically have the same message. They are speaking “righteousness” to an “unrighteous” nation. See above poll on the “nones.” Question for both: At what point would you consider dropping out if it appeared your presence was damaging the eventual nominee?

BOB: You pose a good question and with some history in religion and politics to back it up. In 2008 and 2012 respectively, Huckabee stayed in the race well past his sell-by date. He convinced himself he were on a lonely mission to save the soul of America. Only God can do that. Carson will be out early.