Previewing Today's Debate


Bullet points:

** The audience: Remember, these candidates aren't debating economic policy for a general audience or even for the corporate executives who're watching on CNBC. The candidates want to stick to the outlines broad elite conservative economic consensus: no matter what the economic conditions are, no matter how complex the phenomenon, the answers are free markets, lower taxes, less government and less regulation. Except for Defense. With some exceptions, the base expects to hear these answers. The moderators have a different agenda: they want the candidates to talk about the subprime mortgage crisis and the credit crunch, the complexity of incentives in the health care market, corporate welfare, the environment, and more. The candidates want to keep things simple; the moderators will be throwing curve balls.

** Fred Thompson -- the media and the public probably have different expectations. The media expects him to bumble, bramble and freeze up with facial ticks. The television audience -- C-suiters on CNBC -- probably want some demonstration that Thompson knows the fundamentals of the subject. The regular audience -- those potential voters who will see clips of of the debate or will read about it -- will see Thompson at his best or at his worst.

** The optics: Thompson will stand his 6"5 inch frame between the almost-as-tall Mitt Romney and the fair-amount-shorter Rudy Giuliani. Thompson tends to slouch; that lends him an air of weariness and fatigue.

** Chris and Maria -- these are two debate moderators with ... ample self-confidence. Do they let the candidates answer questions fully? Do they interrupt? Do they go off-topic? Since these are economic topics, how much background do they provide?

** How much policy is actually debated? All of the Republicans will mouth their fealty to the free market, to market-oriented health care, to the American entrepreneurial spirit, to the virtues of small government. They seem to agree on the basics; on the specifics they differ widely. Huckabee has raised taxes in his state to pay for roads and education; he now supports the fair tax. Romney and Giuliani don't have perfect records given the desires of this primary; McCain has always received applause when he chastises Congressional Republicans for spending like drunken sailors.

** Does anyone challenge Thompson directly? Probably not Giuliani and Romney. They assume that the moderators will throw some curve balls at him, and at this stage, Romney wants to avoid as much as possible the perception that he occupies the same tier as Thompson.

** Is there any residual anger between John McCain and Thompson?
The two were close friends; earlier this year, Thompson was even helping McCain raise money.