Previewing the GOP debate sans Donald Trump

in 2017/Top Headlines by

It’s one thing to attack Donald Trump when he’s standing on the presidential debate stage. But what about when he’s not?

It’s a complicated question for the seven presidential candidates in the seventh prime time Republican presidential debate, who expect a no-show from the front-runner who has eclipsed the contest for months — on the brink of Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

Trump has declared that because of what he calls unfair treatment by the network hosting the debate, Fox News Channel, he’ll have his own event at the very same time about two miles away at Drake University.

The main debate stage will once again feature Rand Paul, who was bumped to the undercard debate last time. Also appearing: Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rubio and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Here is a preview and live-blogging of tonight’s debate:

4:32 p.m. – New poll shows four-way battle for 2nd place in N.H. GOP primary

4:21 p.m. – Instead of just watching tonight’s Republican debate, get more involved by playing bingo. Use these cards to keep track of what’s said during the debate. You can play against friends or family members, and the losers have to … well, you make up a suitable punishment. Perhaps listen to a full speech by a candidate they despise. Or is that too cruel? Download a set of four free cards here. Or make a screenshot of the images above.

3:52 p.m. –  Trump will be joined by two of his rivals at the event he’s throwing in place of attending Thursday’s GOP debate. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will be joining Trump at the veterans benefit at Drake University.

3:38 p.m. – Trump has launched a new website for collecting donations to veterans ahead of his event on Thursday evening.

The link, which Trump posted on Twitter, includes the seal of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, and a form for contributions.

It says that 100 percent of donations will go directly to veterans’ needs.

3:37 p.m. – Must-read: “Blowhards, Beware: Megyn Kelly Will Slay You Now” via Evgenia Peretz of Vanity Fair

3:19 p.m. – THE LAST CANDIDATE TO SKIP THE FINAL IOWA DEBATE? RONALD REAGAN via Jessica Taylor of NPR – If Donald Trump keeps his promise not to appear at Thursday night’s Fox News debate, it will be the first time in recent history that a top candidate, let alone the front-runner, will skip such a high-profile event so close to Election Day. The last time a candidate tried to skip the final debate in Iowa, it didn’t work out so well, at least in the short run. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was the national front-runner and thought skipping the Des Moines Register debate — the first televised GOP presidential debate ever — wouldn’t hurt him. But George H.W. Bush had a standout performance; Reagan took heat in the state for his absence, and it was Bush who went on to narrowly win Iowa. Even Reagan’s former staff members admit that was a mistake, giving Bush new momentum.

2:46 p.m. – Rubio Snapchats from the debate stage:

2:24 p.m. – Bill Day offers this editorial cartoon.

day, bill - gap

1:17 p.m. – Former RPOF political director and head of the socially conservative Florida Family Action committee John Stemberger has opened up a multi-front media assault against Trump.

Stemberger penned a blistering op-ed for that says Trump’s “New York values” are completely opposed to those of the conservative Christians whose votes he needs to win.

The column takes Trump to task for his three marriages, permissive attitudes on abortion and gay marriage, and “love of money.”

Quoting the book of II Timothy – or “Two Timothy” as the scriptually-challenged Trump might say – Stemberger warns in the end of days “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

For good measure, Stemberger also took a similar message to the conservative red meat outlet NewsMax. There, he chided Trump as a shallow demagogue with no experience and even worse, a registered Democrat until the late 2000s.

1:15 p.m. – The liberal PAC American Bridge chimed in to call out Trump and his Republican cohorts who they say are imitating Trump’s “right-wing demagoguery, his extreme positions, and his doom-and-gloom rhetoric.”

The group says that even as Trump’s campaign is “ramping up the crazy,” he remains in control of the 2016 primary. Citing praise from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, GOP backlash against the anti-Trump National Review, and growing support among big-name Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch and Newt Gingrich, the group said Trump is increasingly “running the show.”

American Bridge used Trump as a cudgel against the Republicans in general, saying they have joined him in sinking to name-calling, demagoguery, and “amateurish and unsophisticated” policy proposals.

1:06 p.m. – FOR DONALD TRUMP, IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT CONTROL via Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post – Donald Trump is obsessed with being in control. At every turn, the GOP presidential front-runner tries to be the top boss. He rarely puts himself in situations where he is not in control — and Thursday night’s Republican debate in Des Moines was shaping up that way. So he backed out, sending Fox News Channel into a frenzy and putting him in control of the conversation again. Trump once again became the boss.

12:41 p.m. – TWEET, TWEET: Mike Huckabee: After the #GOPDebate I’ll join @realDonaldTrump in Des Moines to support our vets who’ve been abandoned by @BarackObama. Hope you join us!

12:10 p.m. – “Five things to watch” via Alex IsenstadtAfter dominating one news cycle after the next, … Trump will do it again tonight, offering Americans a sideshow and creating a split-screen moment that will paint him, visually, as the outsider … The showdown between Trump and Fox News saves the real estate developer from the onslaught his chief Iowa rival, Ted Cruz, was intending to carry from the campaign trail to the debate stage.

11:53 a.m. – The Cruz campaign is promoting this merchandise:


11:30 a.m.Rubio‘s spokesman, Alex Conant, in an email to supporters:

As with other debates, Marco’s going to use tonight to get his message out there — his conservative policies to build a New American Century, his plans to undo the damage President Obama’s done to our country, and how he’ll unify the Republican party.

That’ll set him apart from some other candidates: Some are going to come in aiming just to tear each other down. Some of them don’t have conservative records to tout. Some of them are all about dividing America, and the Republican party, into hostile factions.

Marco did not come to Des Moines to attack other Republicans — but he’ll be ready to respond if they attack him. He will not hesitate to point out the differences between himself and other candidates, but his message is fundamentally a positive one.

10:35 a.m. – Though it looks like Trump will make good on his threat to boycott tonight’s GOP presidential debate, national Democrats are making sure folks recognize the long shadow he has cast over the contest.

A DNC statement out this morning says that despite his absence, “his failed ideas and divisive, dangerous rhetoric will be front-and-center.”

“With the loudest voice missing from the room, voters will be able to clearly see that when it comes to actual policy, the rest of the candidates are indistinguishable from Trump, peddling an agenda that would only drag our country backwards,” said press secretary Mark Paustenbach.

9:55 a.m. EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN via the Chris Christie campaign: “Trump sits in his jimmies in Trump Tower

8:30 a.m. – TWEET, TWEET: @RealDonaldTrump: The “debate” tonight will be a total disaster – low ratings with advertisers and advertising rates dropping like a rock. I hate to see this.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.