Eight Republican candidates will face off Tuesday night in Milwaukee, in the fourth round of Republican debates of the 2016 presidential election.
The night’s undercard debate will begin at 7 p.m. Eastern time, and the main event will begin at 9 p.m. Eastern. Both will be broadcast on Fox Business Network.
These will be the smallest debates of the GOP election so far, after the organizers used poll numbers to winnow the field for both broadcasts.
Two candidates — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — were bumped from the main stage to the undercard, after they failed to reach a threshold of 2.5 percent in national polls.
That leaves eight candidates left in the main event: billionaire Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former tech executive Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.).
And two other candidates — former New York governor George Pataki and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) — were bumped from the undercard entirely, after failing to reach a lower threshold of 1 percent in national polls. (Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, who appeared in the first undercard but not the next two, will again be kept off the stage because of low numbers). Graham, with a folksy charm and an aggressive call for greater military intervention, had been the dominant candidate in both of the last two undercards. It was not enough to raise his poll standing.
On Tuesday, then, the undercard field will include the newcomers Christie and Huckabee, along with former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Both Santorum and Jindal will be making their fourth straight appearances in a debate for low performers.
These debates come just 13 days after the last Republican debates, which were widely perceived as a disaster for their hosts at CNBC. Both the crowd and the candidates attacked the moderators for asking argumentative questions, and the moderators let the candidates get away with blatant dodging of the truth. Trump, for instance, claimed he hadn’t said something that was included in his own immigration policy paper. The moderator, who had been right, apologized.
Tuesday night’s main event will be moderated by Fox Business personalities Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto. In an interview with The Washington Post, they said they aimed to do better — and that they wouldn’t put up with whining.
“I understand candidates getting annoyed, but they better be careful about looking like whiners and babies. I see this on the right and the left. I think you can ask very tough questions without coming off like an ass,” Cavuto said in an interview with Callum Borchers of The Fix. “I think it’s incumbent on us to know and appreciate the difference.”
The last debate was also a breakout moment for Rubio. He was attacked by Bush — an old ally of Rubio’s from their days in Florida politics — for missing many votes in the Senate.
Rubio responded with a deeply stinging cutdown: “The only reason why you’re doing [this] now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”
Tuesday night’s debate could be a last stand for Bush, who came into the race as the well-funded front-runner and has never shown a fire to match his fundraising. If he does not look like a winner in Tuesday night’s debate, he may find it hard to carry on.
In the days leading up to the debate, Bush’s supporters warned that they were preparing to attack Rubio — in one case, casting him as too anti-abortion to win in a general election. Even before the attacks came, Rubio’s supporters sought to raise money off them.
“How is that the kind of ‘joyful’ campaign that Jeb claimed he wanted to run?!?!” writes Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan in an e-mailed solicitation for campaign contributions. Sullivan was talking about Bush’s early promises to campaign “joyfully” and his references to himself as a “joyful tortoise.”
Tuesday night’s debate could also be a key moment for Carson — who has faced new questions about the way he tells his famous life story.
Carson, for instance, had claimed to have a “scholarship offer” from West Point but did not actually apply to the academy at all. Carson said he was talking about informal promises from military officials, made while he was a high-school ROTC cadet in Detroit.
Carson has also faced questions about the violent elements of his life story, including tales that he threatened his own mother with a hammer and tried to stab a friend with a knife. The candidate himself has said he has been subjected to an unfair level of scrutiny.
This will be the fourth debate in which Trump — the political outsider turned front-runner — has occupied the center podium. It is always hard to know what Trump will talk about. But one possibility is the “war on Christmas” and the new cups at Starbucks Coffee.
“Did you read about Starbucks?” Trump asked a crowd of about 10,200 during a rally at a convention center on Monday evening in Springfield, Ill. “No more ‘Merry Christmas’ at Starbucks. No more.”
The crowd booed loudly.
Trump was talking about the new winter-season cup that the coffee giant unveiled for this year (in early November, when the modern Christmas season begins). In the past, the cup had emblems like snowflakes, fir trees, ornaments, sledders, snowmen and stars — not Jesus in the manger, exactly, but still more explicitly related to Christmas.
This year the cups are just red — which some Christians allege is the company taking the last bits of their holiday out of the season.
“Maybe we should boycott Starbucks,” Trump said, having reminded the crowd that the company is his tenant, at Trump Tower in New York. “I don’t know. Seriously. I don’t care. By the way: That’s the end of that lease. But who cares? Who cares? Who cares?!”
Jenna Johnson, in Springfield, Ill., and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.