Everyone loves them.
Now that I know Donald Trump is not going to debate, I can make some predictions and give advice to those who will be on stage.
Do those on-stage tonight debate in Mr. Trump’s shadow, or do they try to wrestle the future of the Republican Party and the nomination from former President Donald Trump? This is the chance for these eight to stand, collectively, against Trump. Will they have the discipline to do so?
Let’s start with what the New York Times reported as the questions partisans want to hear asked the most.
The questions democrats want to hear answered – Was 2020 stolen? Quite frankly, it’s an intellectually inferior question, but here’s how anyone should answer it.
The right answer is, “it doesn’t matter. BUT, we all have a responsibility to our children, grandchildren and the entire world to ensure that the person who wins the presidency is the duly elected leader of the free world. We can do that in three easy steps:
- Electronic workbooks in precincts to ensure poll workers can’t stuff the ballot box.
- Ask veterans for one more day of service – election day – to poll work and allow them to wear their service hats.
- Live stream everywhere ballots are stored, distributed, voted, collected, counted and canvassed.”
The #1 question republicans want answered – Are you tough enough to beat Trump and then Biden?
The right answer, if you want to lump Mr. Trump, President Biden, and Hillary Clinton (she’ll be 77 in January 2025) together, “l want to thank the leaders of those who are or are going to be octogenarians who have led our country, but it is time for them to enjoy their golden years playing pickleball.”
Another way to answer is to accentuate your experiences that were real-world challenges where you excelled. Boorrrriiiinnnngggg! This falls into the “slow and steady wins the race” advice below.
The #2 question republicans want answered – Will you honor the pledge you signed to be on stage tonight and support the GOP nominee?
This is a potentially game-changing question. I want to see someone take leadership (forego the “I intend to be the nominee, but…”) and say with conviction, “I will commit to all of you who were brave enough to be on stage tonight, that if you are the nominee, I will support you.”
The question that could change the trajectory of the race – Will you serve as Donald Trump’s VP?
The moderator should either begin or end with VP Pence (if your Pence, you want to go last), but I’d like to see Pence say, “I had the honor of being the vice president of the United States. I don’t believe I was anyone but the people’s vice president, but I would caution anyone who wants to be ‘Trump’s VP’ that he encouraged people in Kevlar vests, Kevlar helmets, and rope to hang me for doing my constitutional duty, so, no, I will not be running for vice president if THAT MAN is the nominee.”
General debate advice for Ron DeSantis – Do not swing for the fences. Do not try to be the catalyst for others getting out of the race. Remember, you need the endorsement of EVERYONE on stage to have a chance against Trump. You need to only put on the gloves to fight Prresident Biden and his failed policies. Your goal is to leave the debate stage as the clear alternative to Donald Trump and as someone who will unite the party. Slow and steady wins this race. Even though you are the front-runner of those on stage, be patient, let this debate come to you, but be ready to defend the inevitable attacks. You need to be calculated and measured leader that gained you a historic reelection win and has people moving to Florida in droves. You have the hardest task in answering questions in a way that lay out the hard reality that Trump cannot win while ingratiating yourself to those who have Trump as their first choice and you as their second choice (roughly 70 percent of Trump voters). If you are asked about Disney, your only answer is, “I love Disney! I was married there. Florida isn’t best friends with Disney, we’re family. We shouldn’t have had such a public, family fracas.”
Advice for Vivek Ramaswamy – People like you and your common-sense approach to the problems we face as a country. Quite frankly, this is not likely going to be your year. Play the long game. If you’re attacked, you don’t need to say, “You broke Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment,” just live by the commandmnet. Say something like, “thank you for bringing up that difference, but I’m running to unite our party, not divide it; I hope the rest of you will work with me to accomplish this goal.” This is not the time to let your inner, privileged frat boy loose like you did when you channeled your inner Eminem in Iowa or had a press event while you were playing tennis with your shirt off. You need to prove to people you are mature and serious enough to be president . . . One day. You very well could be the future of the Republican Party, prove it tonight. Maybe, just maybe the future will turn out to be now.
Advice for Mike Pence – Remember you were the vice president of the United States. But this will be one of the first times people will take you seriously as an opponent to former President Trump. Your challenge is to take credit for the successes of the Trump presidency while claiming that Mr. Trump is now too distracted to replicate those accomplishments. Do you need to throw a haymaker? If the opportunity arises (see advice above about being asked about being Trump’s VP). You are a good and honorable man, let people see that in you tonight.
To Senators Tim Scott, former SC Gov. Nikki Haley, former NJ Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and ND Gov. Doug Burgum:
Let’s be honest, it’s the first time I’ve typed some of your names and the first time many people reading Reasonable Arguments have read it. Your goal is to leave the debate stage as the alternative to Trump. All of you have the challenge of doing that while appealing to soft Trump voters while not alienating the 25-30 percent that are likely supporters of Gov. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy. No easy challenge indeed. My advice is to be true to your brand, rely on your successes, and take the battle to President Biden. To the extent that everyone on stage is battling Donald Trump, you are too.
Seems easy right? Remember, no debate happens in a vacuum. The best laid plans can be scattered as waste in a few short moments. Be prepared to pivot and be flexible.
I tell people I try to live my life by two guiding principles, and each candidate would do well to know this about themselves going into tonight’s debate:
1. Do the right thing.
2. Play the long game.
Remember, there are still five long months until the first voters caucus in Iowa.
Footnote for Donald Trump who will not be on stage tonight – It is a calculated move, and probably a good one. Your post-debate coverage tomorrow is going to be about being arrested in Georgia. Despite that, you were always going to leave tonight’s debate stage with a floor of 35-50 percent in polling. Yes, a low of 35, and my guess is that if you skip the next debate, your floor drops to 30 percent. But, you received and took good advice by not being there tonight because there is nothing gained by you being there.
Jamie Miller is a three-decade veteran of Florida politics and has worked on local, state and national races. He is a former executive director for the Republican Party of Florida and has managed, consulted or served as a senior advisor to five statewide campaigns including serving as the florida director of a presidential campaign. Jamie has been quoted in most daily papers in the U.S. and has appeared on many live TV and radio shows including TMZ Live, Radio Free Russia, and local networks. See reasonablearguments.com for more on Mr. Miller.