By George “Washington” Thomas, Political Reporter

SIMI VALLEY, CA – We are less than a few hours from the debate, and the candidates are making their way to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. From the “Spin Room” outside the debate stage, there is a roped off area where the would be President of the USA can come and look at the media. But who is looking at who? For the 4th estate, this is Christmas at Disneyland. The Republican National Committee, Noticias Univision, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute are hosting this 2nd debate of the Republican primary season. 

For debate analysis, the Van Nuys News Press sat down with Aaron Kall, the Director of Debate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Professor Kall has been to numerous presidential debates over the years, and runs the Lee H. Hess academic debate program at the University. 

Kall says to look for one of the candidates to have a breakout performance. They need to differentiate themselves from the pack. Of the seven candidates participating, Nikki Haley is the best debater from an academic perspective. Going back to her days as a candidate for Governor of South Carolina, Haley was not only able to hold her own when accused of marital infidelity, but commanded the stage and took control of the narrative. Haley is polling 2nd in New Hampshire and the knives will be out for her tonight. 

There will be a lot of comparisons to Ronald Reagan this evening, and the two candidates that most align with the thinking of the Reagan Administration are former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. The winnowing of the candidates is part of the process, and this 2nd debate should determine whether some of these candidates’ bid for the White House can last longer than a head of lettuce. 

The government shutdown will be a topic of conversation, as the money runs out to fund the federal government this Sunday. Ukraine and NATO will be discussed, and if there is a desire for an isolationist candidate or a more internationally engaging one. Haley certainly has the international credentials as the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

Former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie needs to break through the pack as well. As the most vocal critic of Trump, Kall believes that Christie needs Trump to participate in these debates to get a rise in the polls. Christie needs Trump on stage to criticize him, and without the front-runner here, his poll numbers may stay in single digits. Christie is putting all his eggs in the New Hampshire basket, so to speak, and New Hampshire could just be the hill his campaign eventually dies on. Looking back to 2016, Trump had narrowed his Vice Presidential pick between Mike Pence and Chris Christie. Now they are both running against him for the GOP nomination. 

Taking a more in depth look at Nikki Haley, she has the resume and background to continue to rise in the polls and appeal to primary voters. A former accountant, both her brother and husband have served in the military. She was in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2004-2010 before becoming Governor of South Carolina. This could be the debate when the die hard Republican voters take a second look at the candidacy of Nikki Haley.

Another point to ponder is whether this all might be a test audition for 2028. If elected president again, Trump cannot serve past 2028, and these candidates might be doing some long term planning for 2028 and beyond. Ron DeSantis is only 44 years old, Nikki Haley is 51, and given the age of some of our recent presidents, there are decades ahead of them to mount another campaign for the White House. Joe Biden ran for president in 1988 and again in 1992, and look at him now.

In moving forward, the Republican National Committee (RNC) plans on a series of debates in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. The Iowa Caucuses start on January 15th, 2024 with Trump polling in 1st, DeSantis in 2nd, and Tim Scott and Mike Pence in a dead heat for 3rd. In 2016 Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucuses, but presidential races are all about momentum. The process winnows out the wheat from the shaft. The third debate is being held in Miami, an effort possibly to entice Donald Trump to participate. (Miami is roughly 70 miles away from Mar-a-Lago). Tonight’s debate starts at 6pm Pacific and is being broadcast on numerous cable networks, including Fox Business and Univision. (Special thanks to Professor Aaron Kall for his debate analysis and professional academic opinions on the process).

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