Here we go again.
Tonight, 10 Republicans debate in the main card of the GOP talkfest.
Who has to do what, how, and when? Who can, should or may break away? Who will emerge and who will be cast aside after the evening is over?
Here's what to look for from each of the candidates:
Trump: Donald Trump is in a tough spot tonight. His numbers are slipping and his main opponent is the polar opposite of him: soft-spoken, decent, seemingly rational Dr. Ben Carson. Trump has to take on Carson but he's got to do it without his usual belligerence. Is that even possible for Trump? Is it even thinkable? Stay tuned . . .
Carson: Ben Carson says some truly radical things but he does it in a mild-mannered, non-threatening way. Still, when you go back and read what he says (or said) you sometimes scratch you head in sheer wonderment. Yes, Carson is appealing to social conservatives and evangelicals who seem to always tip the scales in the Iowa caucuses but tonight his must both broaden his appeal and begin to assert himself in a mainstream manner. Question: Does this guy have a pulse?
Rubio: Marco Rubio is exceptionally well-positioned. Right now, he's everybody's second choice, he has the money to hang on and he's poised to pick up even greater support. He's arguably the most appealing of the candidates and may be the most electable as well. Tonight, he needs to avoid any major mistakes, continue to be quick, meaningful and articulate and begin to position himself for the breakaway. One good line from Rubio could make the night.
Cruz: Ted Cruz has deep, solid support. And, he's a super debater. But he often comes off as overly argumentative and hard-edged. If he can just be more open, human, maybe even warmer . . . In any event, expect him to hold on.
Fiorina: Carly Fiorina has shined in these debates but that's happened mostly through her ability to deftly parrot talking points and make them meaningful to the viewing audience. She needs a bit more spontaneity and, this too: It would help if she smiled now and then.
Kasich: John Kasich has largely supplanted Jeb Bush as the one middle-of-the-road candidate to watch. He's got an honest, straightforward "aw, shucks" appeal. But does he have to always be a nice guy? We'd like to see some real brio from him tonight. And, think of this: Any combination of Kasich and Rubio. Translation: Ohio and Florida!
Paul: Rand Paul is simply running out of time. He has done nothing to break through in any of the debates. He comes through as sour, somewhat stubborn and doctrinaire. We did say "stubborn," didn't we? That's why we're so hesitant to advise him and feel it will be so hard for him to turnaround.
Huckabee: Mike Huckabee, a very likable guy with an earnest debate style and an appealing authenticity is basically a leftover from the 2012 campaign. Dr. Ben Carson has stolen Huckabee's constituency and the future does not look bright for the Arkansan.
Christie: Sadly, Chris Christie's whole schtick was stolen by Donald Trump and Trump remains the behemoth in this battle. But even considering that, Christie has fared remarkably well in these debates. He's sharp, incisive, indefatigable. He'll be all the way on the far end of the stage tonight (not a position Christie enjoys) but Christie is a grappler and if he can hang on then he can hope and pray that lightening strikes.
Bush: You remember him, don't you? Jeb Bush? What a sad story this has become. Bush has turned surly and whiney and just plain goofy. He's playing to all the worst stereotypes and he's managed to give people Bush fatigue even before the race really began. And it's been all downhill from there. Is it too late? Does it matter? Zzzzzz . . . .