Workers prepare the stage for the 2012 GOP debate at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Ten GOP candidates will take the stage Aug. 6 in the first 2016 debate in Cleveland.

Workers prepare the stage for the 2012 GOP debate at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Ten GOP candidates will take the stage Aug. 6 in the first 2016 debate in Cleveland.

Ten Republican presidential candidates are set to debate Thursday night in Cleveland. Seven others, who missed the Fox News cut, will debate each other earlier this evening. On deck: Questions about U.S. immigration policy and the Iran nuclear, among other topics. Businessman Donald Trump continues to lead the GOP field, with more than 20 percent of likely Republican voters supporting him for president. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush trail just behind and will look to close that gap tonight. Guest host Laura Knoy and guests look at what to expect from the first GOP presidential debate.


  • Domenico Montanaro Lead political editor, NPR
  • Lara Brown Associate professor, Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University; author of “Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants”
  • Byron York Chief political correspondent, The Washington Examiner; author of "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of the Democrats' Desperate Fight to Reclaim Power"


  • 10:06:54

    MS. LAURA KNOYThanks for joining us. I'm Laura Knoy of New Hampshire Public Radio sitting for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. This evening, Republican presidential candidates take the stage for the first official debates of the 2016 campaign. Ten candidates will face off in primetime and the other seven will spar a few hours earlier.

  • 10:07:13

    MS. LAURA KNOYJoining me in the studio on what to expect at tonight's debates, controversy over the candidate selection process and what it all means for the upcoming presidential election, Domenico Montanaro of NPR News and Lara Brown of the George Washington University. And by phone from Cleveland, Ohio, where the debates are taking place, Byron York of The Washington Examiner. Welcome to all of you. Thank you for being here.

  • 10:07:34

    MR. DOMENICO MONTANAROGood morning. Thanks for having us.

  • 10:07:35

    MR. BYRON YORKThank you.

  • 10:07:36

    MS. LARA BROWNThanks.

  • 10:07:36

    KNOYYou can join us, too, 1-800-433-8850, 1800-433-8850. Send us an email, Find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Domenico, I want to start with you. Seventeen candidate, some on at 5:00, some on at 9:00. Just tell us who is talking when.

  • 10:07:58

    MONTANAROWell, after a long complex process of decimal points and some controversy, we finally have our 10, at least for this first debate. And as everyone knows, Donald Trump has surged in the polls and he's still leads at number one with about 24, 23 percent or so and he's joined in the top tier with -- by Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, who are the only two candidates that get in double figures.

  • 10:08:26

    MONTANAROAnd then, you have sort of this cavalcade of others in the primetime debate who are in the mid to low single digits. Rounding out the top ten, you had John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, and Chris Christie, who notably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Fox TV ads nationally to try to get themselves a boost in the polls. It would've been pretty embarrassing for Kasich to not be on the stage, given that the debate was taking place in his home state.

  • 10:08:52

    MONTANAROSo he really wanted to be there and they did squeak in. Only about 3 percent in the polls, but in this case, good enough when you've got 17 candidates. Some of the people left off the stage, most notably Rick Perry, who could've had an argument to be in the race and we'll talk about that, I'm sure, a little bit more. But everyone from 5 down to 15 had somewhat of an argument based on the margin of error to actually on that stage. But Fox figured they have to do something to try to get everyone into the race.

  • 10:09:24

    MONTANAROAnd you've got Governor Perry, like I mentioned, from Texas, Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO, the only woman in the race on the Republican side who is going to be in that 5 o'clock debate, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, Lindsey Graham, who has taken some of the hottest shots at Donald Trump. So Trump and Perry -- or Perry and Graham, the two people who've really taken the biggest shots at Donald Trump, not on the stage tonight in the primetime debate so it'll be interesting to see what the dynamics are there.

  • 10:09:54

    MONTANARORick Santorum, who was effectively the runner-up in 2012, left off that stage as well.

  • 10:10:00

    KNOYSo a lot of people, Domenico, with, you know, impressive resumes, sitting senators, governors...

  • 10:10:05

    MONTANAROSenators, governors, right.

  • 10:10:05

    KNOY...and so forth are at that earlier, 5:00 p.m. debate.

  • 10:10:09


  • 10:10:10

    KNOYHow much does it matter, Lara, which debate you're at? 5 o'clock, 9 o'clock.

  • 10:10:13

    BROWNWell, my take on this is that, in fact, it's better to be in the 5 o'clock debate and the reason why is that you're going to have an opportunity to set the agenda for that 9 o'clock debate. You have a chance to take a shot at these candidate who are in the later debate. You have an opportunity to certainly take a shot at Trump. And if any of them use their time in that later debate to respond to you, well, then you've just put yourself into the national conversation and you've won that debate.

  • 10:10:41

    KNOYWhat about who watches a 5:00 versus 9:00? I mean, there's this impression that everybody sits down on the couch at 9 o'clock and everybody's busy at 5 o'clock, coming home from work or whatever. But what do the numbers show us?

  • 10:10:51

    BROWNWell, I think a lot of this is going to depend on where you are in the country because, obviously, the time zone differences and the different times that it airs will matter. You know, if you're on the east coast and it's 5 o'clock and you leave work and you want to go have happy hour drinks with your friends, it'll be a great opportunity to sort of watch the debate and see how those early candidates fare. But if you're on the west coast or, goodness, if you're in Hawaii, your opportunity to view the...

  • 10:11:20

    MONTANAROThe noon debate.

  • 10:11:21

    KNOYWatch it at lunch.

  • 10:11:21

    BROWN...early debate will end up being a very different story.

  • 10:11:24

    KNOYWell, and Byron, you're in Cleveland where the debates are taking place. What are the campaigns saying there in Cleveland about the selection process and how it all shook out in the end?

  • 10:11:36

    YORKWell, there have been a few complaints about the selection process, but I think everybody concedes that Fox News and the organizers of future debates had to do something to pare the field down. You could not have all 17 of them on stage for a single debate. Just look at the candidate forum that was held the other night in New Hampshire. You had 11 of them on stage and then three of them by satellite and it was -- I mean, it was jammed.

  • 10:12:01

    YORKSo having 10 candidates seems to me to be pretty much the max that can be handled in a two-hour debate. So all of the, you know, all of the, I guess, complaining had to do with Rick Perry, who almost made it, but actually there were a spate of polls at the end, right before the final selection and Perry just didn't do very well in them. So I agree that a candidate will have an opportunity to make a mark in the earlier debate.

  • 10:12:31

    YORKRemember, it's not just audiences, although Fox News has a very big audience at 5:00 p.m. eastern time. It's not just that. It's social media. It's clips. It's YouTube. It's viral stuff. So anybody on the debate stage at any time today will have an opportunity to make an impact.

  • 10:12:49

    KNOYWell, and that's a great point, Byron, I'm glad you brought it up. So let's get a little more there. You know, these days, it isn't just what you say at that moment, Americans are sitting down, you know, wrapped, hanging onto every word. It's how it's dissected by social media, how it's spread on Twitter or YouTube. Give us a little more there, Bryon, how the campaigns are working with that.

  • 10:13:09

    YORKWell, they're all hoping that they can make that impression. And by the way, one of the sponsors of this debate is Facebook and Fox and Facebook have been working to, you know, find the topics and the candidates who are most mentioned in Facebook posts and that sort of thing. But every single candidate is going to be trying hard, cutting clips of -- video clips of their portion of the debate, where they think their candidate made the best point and are going to try to get those out, not only to their supporters, but then get their supporters to send them out to their friends and the whole viral phenomenon.

  • 10:13:42

    KNOYWow. Interesting. Lara, I'd love to hear from you, too, on that.

  • 10:13:44

    BROWNWell, I think this issue is a really important one for this campaign. In fact, my colleagues and I at George Washington University are working with Signal Labs to track the media mentions and we are looking at this through what we call our Peoria Project Report. One of the things that is surprising when you look at this and you start to compare it with the polling is that some of the candidates who don't appear to be fairing so well in mainstream media are, in fact, doing what we would expect them to do through social media.

  • 10:14:15

    BROWNThey are getting their websites shared a great deal, which means that their campaigns are able to collect email addresses and they're also getting their campaign messages re-tweeted on Twitter and both of those things are really effective organizing tools that, one day, if the campaign is working right, can lead to votes and eventually delegates at the convention.

  • 10:14:39

    KNOYSo getting back to Lara's point a little bit ago, Domenico, it really doesn't matter, 5 o'clock or 9 o'clock.

  • 10:14:44

    MONTANAROWell, I think most people are going to be watching that 9 o'clock debate to see how Donald Trump does, right? I mean, you're going to -- I mean, this is the elephant in the room, so to speak. I mean, you know, but he's never been in a debate. And he's been downplaying expectations. He's not talking about how terrific he is or what losers the other people are, at this point. He's saying, look, these guys are professional politicians. They're all talk. They're no action, you know. What are you going to do?

  • 10:15:07

    MONTANAROWhat can I possibly say here, you know? These guys are the pros, right? So let's see how he fares. He said he's not going to go on the attack first, but we know what he's willing to counterattack. But who's going to really go after him? That's another strategy that, I think, a lot of the other candidates are thinking about and I think most of them don't want to do that. You know, we did a piece on NPR where we talked to Steve Schmidt who had run John McCain's campaign.

  • 10:15:32

    MONTANAROAnd a lot of strategists behind the scenes are advising their campaigns not to attack Trump because he said it's like when you roll in the mud with a pig, the pig likes it and you get muddy. And, you know, that's the real issue, I think, for a lot of them. Some people want to take shots at Trump because they see him as the meteor and that they get on that stage. But now that that stage is decided, the Lindsey Grahams and all those folks, they're not really there to be able to take that shot at Trump.

  • 10:15:58

    MONTANAROBut also watching, I think, more importantly, Jeb Bush. You know, he's have a very difficult month. The last month he's come down a bit in some of the polls. He's made some stumbles. He needs to clean things up. He looks like he's got some rust. He hasn't been a candidate for quite some time. This is his opportunity, if you're looking at -- if you're an establishment Republican and you're saying, you know, when is this Donald Trump thing going to fade, if they're thinking it does, who are we going to go to?

  • 10:16:23

    MONTANAROIs it Jeb Bush? Is it Scott Walker? And I think, when you watch the dynamic between Bush and Walker, how does Bush hold up on the stage versus some of the others?

  • 10:16:30

    KNOYWell, and in a minute, I do want to talk to all of you about some of the issues that will come up, immigration, Common Core, foreign policy, but since you mentioned the Trump factor, Domenico, I do want to throw this to you, Byron. The Trump factor, how are candidates there in Cleveland talking about whether they will or will not engage with Mr. Trump?

  • 10:16:47

    YORKYeah, well, first of all, every candidate in the primetime debate has to have a Trump strategy. This hasn't ever been the case for any previous debate, but you've got to have a Trump strategy. What are you going to do if he does A or he does B? But I have talked with a number of staffers from a number of campaigns here, got here last night, and I haven't detected much interest at all in their candidate attacking Trump. They've watched Trump and when he attacks another candidate, it's usually actually a counterattack, that the other candidate has gone after Trump first and Trump has a tendency to hit back harder than he was originally hit.

  • 10:17:28

    YORKBut on the other hand, he hasn't just initiated a lot of the fights. He's said outrageous things that people have criticized, but in terms of just targeting a fellow candidate and launching some sort of surprise attack, he hasn't done that and I don't think they expect him to do it tonight. So they think, well, if we don't attack him...

  • 10:17:46

    KNOYByron, you still there? All right. We seem to have lost our connection with Byron. Byron York, in Cleveland, are you still there? All right. We'll get back with him soon. Every candidate, Lara Brown, needs to have a Trump strategy, very interesting. Real quick, what are your thoughts there?

  • 10:18:02

    BROWNWell, I think that's right. You obviously need to find some ways to respond to him if he does initiate something. But I agree with what Bryon's been finding, that no one really wants to take him on and give him a chance to rebut.

  • 10:18:15

    KNOYAll right. We will talk more about tonight's Republican debates in just a moment. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:02

    KNOYWelcome back. I'm Laura Knoy of New Hampshire Public Radio sitting in today for Diane Rehm. We're talking this hour about tonight's two Republican debates in Cleveland, Ohio. Our guests are Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. He's in Cleveland covering the debates. Also with us in studio, Lara Brown, associate professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. And Domenico Montanaro, lead politics editor for NPR News. You can join us as well, 1-800-433-8850. Your questions and comments about tonight's Republican debates are welcome at 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email, Find us on Facebook or Twitter.

  • 10:20:47

    KNOYAnd Byron York, you're back with us. And I did want you to give you a chance to finish up the points you were making about every candidate needs a Trump strategy.

  • 10:20:54

    YORKWell, sorry, something must have happened with the phone. But I think most of the candidates are thinking that if they don't attack Donald Trump, he's probably not going to attack them. And I think the point I was making is, given that so many Fox News debates have been marked by sharp, pointed, very substantive questions, I think Trump has a lot more to worry about from the questions he is asked, whether he can handle those in a substantive way, than any sort of attack from any fellow candidate on the stage.

  • 10:21:25

    KNOYSo policy will matter. Go ahead, Lara, and Domenico, too. But go ahead, Lara.

  • 10:21:28

    BROWNWell, I think that that's right. I also think that Trump has to show whether or not he's presidential. And I think that is a tougher bar for him. But picking up on something that Byron York mentioned earlier, is this way to choose. There really is another way to do this. A lot of pundits and commentators have mentioned that they could have drawn lots, they could have made this random. My colleague, Professor Michael Cornfield, and I actually agree that, really, Fox News wasted an opportunity to turn this into American Idol. And I know that that sounds as though we're trivializing this. But, really, what we see it as, that the choosing could have been a test of the campaign's organizing capacities.

  • 10:22:11

    BROWNSo if there had been an opportunity for supporters to vote for their candidate to be in the first-tier debate, they could have created a selection-Sunday type show, where they tell you who shows up in which debate. And you could have really seen, through this invisible primary, how the candidates are doing, other than just fundraising.

  • 10:22:32

    KNOYSo make it a reality TV show, Lara?

  • 10:22:34

    BROWNMake it a reality TV show. You have more people tuning in and there's nothing wrong with that in a democracy where usually only about a quarter of the population votes in primaries.

  • 10:22:44

    KNOYWell, and given, Domenico, what people said about the selection process that was used, you know, polls. People said these are national polls. While these people are campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, they're not known nationally, it's too early and so forth.

  • 10:22:56

    MONTANAROWell, there used to be a winnowing process in August of pre-election years, which was the Iowa straw poll. And a lot of candidates used to have to spend a lot of money on that. And there was -- there have been a lot of problems with it. And the state party decided to do away with it this time around. And you basically have a dam break, where you have a lot of people who are able to now stay on the stage for quite some time. I mean, if you remember, in 2011, the day after the August 11, 2011 Iowa straw poll, Tim Pawlenty dropped out. That would be next week, right? I mean, if this -- if he were running this time around, there's no chance he would be dropping out, you know, because he didn't make the prime time debate.

  • 10:23:35

    MONTANAROBut back to Byron's point on the substance of this debate, I do think that we should watch Donald Trump when it comes to some of the questions that are asked. Chris Wallace, in particular, you know that he is not going to let Trump get off easy with boiler-plate answers. And there's the potential for some fiery moments between the two of them, in particular, where Wallace is trying to follow up, where if Trump is, you know, talking about immigration or talking about something else, where he doesn't quite, you know, finish the policy point. You know, Trump's going to have to have those briefing books actually ready. And the problem is he doesn't really have a lot of briefing-book advisor types.

  • 10:24:12

    MONTANAROI mean, he's his own advisor. He's his biggest advisor. He thinks bravado is just what's going to sell. And it does for a certain sect of the Republican primary base. But that's not going to be enough to get to -- to win the nomination.

  • 10:24:24

    KNOYAll right. On this issue that you all are raising about the importance of substance and the questions in tonight's forums, here's an email from Brian in New Hampshire. He says, "The first Manchester Union Leader debate a few days ago struck me as particularly banal: A right-slanted newspaper sending a conservative columnist to ask softball questions of a plethora of Republican candidates." Brian says, "While I admire the moderator's management of such a large field, I came away thinking it was a waste of two hours." He says, "Is there any hope for Fox News, also a bit on the partisan side, can pull off a meaningful, challenging debate," Brian says, "or are we in for another round of pandering?" Byron, you're -- you first. Go ahead.

  • 10:25:07

    YORKWell, let me address that. I should first begin by saying I'm a Fox News contributor. And in that August 11, 2011 debate, I was actually one of the moderators in that debate. And I would ask anyone who believes that Fox lobs a bunch of softball questions at candidates to actually look at the debates that have been held by Fox in the last several cycles. Questions have been very, very tough. Follow-ups have been very tough. There was a Politico article, I think, this week that described that August 11 debate as a master class in grilling candidates. So I -- there are certainly listeners who don't watch Fox News very much and are not familiar with that.

  • 10:25:50

    YORKI think if they give this debate a chance, they will see some very, very difficult, pointed, challenging questions for these candidates tonight.

  • 10:25:59

    MONTANAROWell, I think that's absolutely true. And as somebody who helped put together debates for NBC, I can just tell you that the dynamic between Fox in a Republican primary and some of the other mainstream media outlets is a very different dynamic. You know, you're not going to have a situation in which, you know, Donald Trump or Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Ted Cruz is going to say, "You know, you Fox News moderator, you're biased. You're just -- these -- you mainstream media guys are just over the top." They are able to do that with CNN. You'll remember Newt Gingrich did that to John King.

  • 10:26:30

    MONTANAROThey are able to do that with any of the other media outlets where, if they don't like the question or they don't think that it's something that, you know, suits them, they can attack the moderator. It's much more difficult for them to do with Fox News.

  • 10:26:44

    KNOYAll right. Let's take some calls. Lots of listeners who want to jump into our conversation. Again, the number here on "The Diane Rehm Show," 1-800-433-8850. Send an email to And first up is Bernie in Houston, Texas. Hi, Bernie. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:27:00

    BERNIEGood morning. Thank you for taking the call.

  • 10:27:01


  • 10:27:03

    BERNIENice show. I'm wondering if any of your panelists think there's a chance for a moderate candidate or moderate positions to emerge from tonight's debate?

  • 10:27:10

    KNOYAll right. Bernie, thank you. Lara, what do you think?

  • 10:27:12

    BROWNI don't think so. I think, tonight...

  • 10:27:13

    KNOYReally? Because there are some moderates up there.

  • 10:27:16

    BROWNThere are. I think what you're going to see in the later debate is Rand Paul trying to make the case that there should be a different kind of Republican that leads the Republican Party. But I think you have to realize that most of these candidates are really fighting for and battling for support in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. That's where they have to, you know, bring in their Republicans to show that they are viable candidates nationally. And this is always the difficulty of primary debates, is whether you're on the left or the right. Primaries do tend to appeal more to those who are likely to turn out. And those who are likely to turn out are activist partisans.

  • 10:27:57

    KNOYWe should talk more about Rand Paul. Because when this campaign started, he really made a name for himself, Domenico, by being sort of the isolationist.

  • 10:28:05


  • 10:28:05

    KNOYLet's not get involved in these foreign entanglements. How is he fitting into this field now?

  • 10:28:10

    MONTANAROWell, I think the world affairs have moved away from the issues that are important to him. I mean, when Edward Snowden was getting all the attention, suddenly the Rand Paul boomlet was much stronger because he was able to talk about, you know, NSA surveillance, keeping the country out of war and things like that. But back to the caller's question about whether there are some moderate positions that could emerge. You know, I think Lara's point is right that there's -- that this is an activist-based -- you're looking at -- just like on the Democratic side, you know, the issues that are going to be talked about there is not going to be the ones you generally hear about in the general election.

  • 10:28:45

    MONTANAROBut there could be some inflection points on immigration, in particular. We know Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have, in the past, supported some path to legal citizen -- to legal status. Rubio had been in support, you remember, for the comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate. He's since backed away somewhat from that. But they're much more open on immigration. Donald Trump, as well, has sort of said, "Look, we've got to do something with these folks." He wouldn't say specifically what he would wind up wanting to do, whether they should have citizenship or legal status. I also think on criminal reform there's some bipartisan areas of agreement on what to do with sentencing reform.

  • 10:29:23

    MONTANAROAnd Marco Rubio I've heard talk about medical marijuana and how he would be in favor of that. Although none of the candidates on that stage -- maybe Rand Paul -- being in favor of outright legalization of marijuana, that's for sure. But, you know, moving toward something like medical marijuana is something I think that you'll see from -- potentially from some of those folks. But I don't think that those are necessarily going to be main-thrust issues. Immigration could emerge as something there.

  • 10:29:47

    KNOYOthers you would add to the list, Byron York. Common Core, for example.

  • 10:29:52

    YORKThey're not going to like it, I'll tell you that right now. I do think a lot of the viewers of this -- the viewers who are in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina -- they're going to be looking for conservative authenticity. I think some of them have their -- the questions about Trump because he's been all over the place on some issues in the past. A lot of them have concerns about Jeb Bush. They'll say, "Well, you know, he did have a conservative record as governor of Florida. But he's -- I don't know, he seems to have softened up a while since then." So I think you're going to see candidates actually trying to establish more conservative bonafides.

  • 10:30:31

    YORKThen you're going to have somebody like Ted Cruz saying, "Hey, I've been that way all along. I've been with you. You don't have to worry about me being a RINO. So I do think that you'll...

  • 10:30:39

    KNOYRepublican in name only. Yeah.

  • 10:30:40

    YORKExactly. I think he'll -- you will see a number of candidates actually trying to establish these conservative -- or burnish these conservative cred.

  • 10:30:51

    KNOYLara, so immigration, foreign policy, Common Core, marijuana, a couple of other issues -- but will voters be approaching this with an eye toward the issues? Or will they be looking at this more with a way just to get a sense of someone's leadership?

  • 10:31:05

    BROWNWell, I do think we are far away from an actual vote. So one of the things that is true early on in these races is that people are just trying to have a sense of who might actually fill the role of president. And they really are looking to try on candidates. And they need to have an understanding of what their demeanor and disposition would be like were they to be in the White House. I think, though, that there's another issue that we sometimes neglect. We get caught up both in the horse race conversation and this conversation about issues and policy. But really, most presidents are not able to govern on the issues that they ran on. It's very unusual for our politics to sort of stay where they are a couple years from where they began.

  • 10:31:52

    BROWNAnd I, you know, you can look back to George W. Bush, who deeply believed he would be a domestic president. And he ended up being, you know, a war president. So what we start with and where we end is not necessarily where we are.

  • 10:32:08

    KNOYLet's take a call from Cy in Akron, Ohio. Good morning, Cy. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome.

  • 10:32:13

    CYGood morning. The Zogby Poll said yesterday that John Kasich, perhaps, should not have been one of the 10. But I would like to ask a question about -- I wish Al Gore were asking the questions tonight. I wish he would ask Jeb Bush about his role in stealing the election for his brother in 2000 through removal of hundreds of thousands of names from the voting rolls.

  • 10:32:42

    KNOYNot likely to happen, Cy. But thank you for the call. And let's talk a little bit, if we could, Domenico, about John Kasich. One of you mentioned earlier, he just barely made the cut into that prime time slot. And thank goodness for him, because Ohio's his home state.

  • 10:32:55

    MONTANARORight. And Fox News took an average of five of the more recent national polls -- I say more because they left out the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, which I'm biased toward because I think it's the gold standard of polls and I think a lot of people agree with me. But they left that one out nonetheless. But they -- so this is how they decided to make that call. And they went by, you know, down to the decimal point, who would make to the top 10. You know, climate is not going to come up tonight, if that's what she means when it comes to Al Gore. I highly doubt that. And I really doubt anyone's going to ask about the Bush legacy. But I, you know, Jeb Bush, that is one area that he's going to have to overcome, which is his last name.

  • 10:33:35

    MONTANAROI think that's the only thing a lot of people will know about him. And I think it's very difficult for him, when you look at some of the polling. And a lot of these candidates are not seen -- they're not very well liked. Their favorability ratings are not very high. Jeb Bush, in one recent poll, his positive rating was only 26 percent. Mitt Romney never had a favorability rating lower than that. Donald Trump is even worse liked by all voters. Hillary Clinton, on the other side, very difficult time for her as well -- lower favorability ratings than Barack Obama has ever had. So when people are sort of turning a skeptical eye to politics, this is, at least for Republicans, a first chance to show that they can turn that aircraft carrier around.

  • 10:34:15

    KNOYI'm Laura Knoy. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook. Send us a Tweet. Here's an email from Mitch in Maryland. He says, "If the other nine candidates wait for Trump to self destruct, they'll be disappointed. Trump's campaign is so heavily invested in being the plain-talking, unpolished outsider, that his supporters won't care about the kind of gaff that Bush had on women's health care." Do you want to address that, Byron York? It doesn't matter, really.

  • 10:34:50

    YORKOh, I think that's actually true. I think Trump has so far defied the political gravity that most of us thought existed until the last couple of months. So Trump does appeal to people on his own terms, basically that he tells it like it is. And I don't think any other candidate is going to be able to make a dent in that. And remember there are remarks that Trump has made that, at the time, many of us in the political class, hair on fire, said, "Oh, this is it. This is over for Trump." After he attacked -- after Trump attacked John McCain, I think a lot of people said, "Well, that's it for him. He's going to begin to decline." And he did not. He actually kept rising.

  • 10:35:35

    YORKSo I would caution people about -- including myself -- about making any predictions of the effect that will take place after Trump says "A" or "B." I mean, we've -- we just don't know. Nothing has hurt him so much -- so far.

  • 10:35:52

    KNOYHere's a Tweet from -- that just came in, it -- who asks, "Why are some of these candidates even running? They can't win." A Tweet from John. Thanks, John. And Thanks, Mitch, for that email earlier. Lara, what do you think?

  • 10:36:03

    BROWNWell, I mean...

  • 10:36:04

    KNOYThis is America. It's a democracy.

  • 10:36:05

    BROWNThat's absolutely right. And what I would honestly say is, what is shocking to me is that every four years we usually have fewer than a dozen people, in a country of 300 million, who decide to make this run. So, yes, it is true that, you know, there are a lot of candidates this time around. But, quite frankly, I don't think that there's anything wrong with their being this many candidates and especially this early. We have plenty of time to sort this out.

  • 10:36:32

    KNOYSo when people say, "There's so many. There's too many." You would say, "No, it's big country and everybody has a fair shot."

  • 10:36:37

    BROWNThat's right. And, in fact -- I'm sure you know this, being from New Hampshire -- the New Hampshire presidential ballot is usually full of candidates who only get their names on that ballot. And it is a much more fun and retail exercise in really what democracy is about.

  • 10:36:53

    KNOYYeah, there's usually several dozen candidates on the ballot, many of whom you've never heard of. There's some candidates on the stage tonight, five o'clock or nine o'clock, Lara, who many Americans might not have heard of.

  • 10:37:04

    BROWNWell, I think the most surprising individual, to me, on the stage at nine o'clock is Ben Carson. You know, he's a former neurosurgeon and he is running for president. He really came to recognition when he criticized President Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast. He has, since, kind of launched a personal book tour and speaking crusade. But he is somebody who, I think, has an opportunity to show himself as the other non-politician on that stage with Donald Trump.

  • 10:37:39

    KNOYAnd he's the only African-American in this field.

  • 10:37:40

    BROWNHe is.

  • 10:37:41

    KNOYAll right. Well, coming up, more of your calls and questions on tonight's two Republican debates. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:02

    KNOYWelcome back. I'm Laura Knoy sitting in for Diane Rehm. This hour a preview of tonight's two Republican presidential debates. Our guests are Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. He joins us from Cleveland, Ohio where the debates are taking place tonight. Lara Brown is with us in studio, associate professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Along with Domenico Montanaro, lead politics editor for NPR News.

  • 10:40:28

    KNOYYou can join us as well with your questions, comments, thoughts on what to expect from tonight's two Republican presidential debates. 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850. is the email. You can find us on Facebook or Twitter. And all of you, let's go right back to our listeners and go to Ray in Wilmington, N.C. Hi, Ray, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome.

  • 10:40:56

    RAYGood morning, ya'll. How are ya'll?

  • 10:40:57


  • 10:41:00

    RAYI want to make a comment that's probably not the best for all of ya'll (unintelligible) and things. The guy said -- one of the folks up there said earlier that he thought that the moderator would probably get in it with Trump because he would try to pin Trump down on his policies, and some of the things Trump's been saying. I want to point out that what Trump has been saying is everything every other candidate's been saying. They've all been saying get rid of Obamacare and none of them have been saying this is what we're going to do to replace it. They've all been saying, build defense, secure the borders. No one's saying how they're going to take care of what's in the country now.

  • 10:41:35

    RAYThey're all hawks on Iran. They're all against Iran. None of them -- they're all saying the same thing. Trump's just saying it probably a little more in politic. I don't like any of them. I mean, I'm on the other side of the aisle. But, yeah, they need to pin them all down. And I can't believe -- I watched George Will the other night, and he said, yeah, the thing about Trump is his fact-less campaign. They're all fact-less campaigns.

  • 10:42:01

    KNOYAll right. Well, Ray, thank you for calling in. And it is a primary, Domenico, so often you don't see a lot of daylight among different candidates, but go ahead following up on Ray's point.

  • 10:42:09

    MONTANAROThat's absolutely true, but that's why I love debates. Because frankly if you watch debates very closely, you go back and read the transcripts, and you're not just looking for style, right, and you're not just looking for the fireworks which are good ratings and they're fun to watch. But if you go back and you read through some of those issue positions, what I like to call broccoli, you know, like, I get annoyed when moderators of debates start out with candy, you know, starting out with, like, the scandal in the race.

  • 10:42:35

    MONTANAROStart with the broccoli, start with the big issues, the things that people really care about, and then we can drill down, we can actually use some of those debate transcripts later on. You can go back and say, this is where some of it -- when they laid it out in that debate, you know, often when I go back and I'm trying to find where somebody stood on a policy, and when they were pressed on it, it's either in a debate transcript or in a very good Sunday show interview.

  • 10:43:00

    KNOYWell, and, Byron, to you too, to our caller's point that these candidates are all the same on all the issues, true or not?

  • 10:43:08

    YORKWell, first of all, Trump has added flourishes to some of his policy proposals that nobody else has. For example, he has said that he would build a wall on the United States Mexico border. And he would have the Mexicans pay for it. Now, he's been challenged a number of times. Well, how are you going to do that? And Trump says, well, I just will. And perhaps it'd be more questioning about that.

  • 10:43:31

    YORKAs far as Obamacare is concerned, yes, I believe every single candidate wants to repeal Obamacare, but there's a lot of questions about what they would do after that in the unlikely event they were able to accomplish it. So I think there's a lot of room for questions among these candidates about actual policy issues.

  • 10:43:51

    KNOYAll right. Well, thank you for that call. And let's take another one. This is Margaret in Indianapolis, Ind. Hi, Margaret, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome.

  • 10:43:58

    MARGARETWell, thank you very much. And of course this is fascinating. My question, I first want to say I think one of the commentators started to address this, but I didn't catch her name. But my question is, and my background is eight years in the U.S. Senate and the Senate staff, also growing up in a Republican family here in Indiana who was both involved with, and the kind that doesn't exist anymore, progressive. But in which dad handled 23 campaigns, 21 of them national and statewide.

  • 10:44:34

    KNOYWow, so a long Republican background. What's your question this morning, Margaret?

  • 10:44:38

    MARGARETAnd speaking of our dinner table conversation was always the difference between campaigning, which is basically marketing and a competitive marketing, versus governing. And why don't the commentators ever speak or ask the questions of the candidates anymore about let's say you did get elected, how would you manage change? How would you be a change agent to bring about your policy changes? And also what's your management background? So much of governing is being handed, and, again, I think one of the commentators spoke on this.

  • 10:45:19

    KNOYRight. I think that was you, Lara. Thank you very much for the call, Margaret. The idea of, you know, campaigning is one thing, governing is another.

  • 10:45:25

    BROWNWell, she's absolutely right about the differences and the different character traits and really sort of skill sets that one needs to be able to do both. I would argue that one of the realities with our current modern presidential system is that we are selecting more and more individuals who have less and less of a political background. And so when you put them in an office, they actually don't understand how to manage politics, which is a very different enterprise than managing a business, which is a hierarchy, or for that matter managing really any other organization in which structures don't have separation of powers.

  • 10:46:09

    BROWNAnd I think one of the realities is you see these candidates who promise that they're going to bring kind of new skills or different perspectives into politics. They often fail because they don't understand how the systems work.

  • 10:46:24

    KNOYWell, and, Byron...

  • 10:46:25

    YORKCan I add something?

  • 10:46:25

    KNOYYeah, the governors in this race, right, Byron, are saying, hey, I can manage this?

  • 10:46:29

    YORKIf I'm counting correctly, there are nine governors...

  • 10:46:31


  • 10:46:31

    YORK...who are going to be in the combined two events tonight. And they can say, well, look what I did. I did this in Texas. I did this in Wisconsin. I think Scott Walker can certainly say, I have been a change agent in Wisconsin. Now, I'm not sure anybody would ever disagree with him on that. So I do think you have candidates with a lot of governing experience. You could say, well, it's completely different in Washington, and perhaps your skills wouldn't apply as well there. But they have governed extensively in systems with the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

  • 10:47:04

    KNOYYeah, Lara, we get two messages. We get, I have governing experience from some. We get messages from others, like Ben Carson and Donald Trump, I'm an outsider, and that's a good thing.

  • 10:47:12

    BROWNWell, yes, and I just want to provide a little bit of historical background. We have this sort of image or myth that we were governed by citizen politicians at the very beginning of our history, but that's simply not true. If you look at Thomas Jefferson who was our third president of the United States, before he became president, he had held office, been appointed to or elected to 17 different offices, and had served a total of 32 years in political offices. So, you know, and quite frankly, James Madison was just the same way. And this goes on and on through our history.

  • 10:47:49

    BROWNOur current slates of candidates, and they have been this way really since Nixon sort of with Watergate ruined this idea of what insiders can bring to the White House, have really been people who have served a few terms, not many. Bill Clinton has been, in fact, one of the more accomplished or I should say long serving governors, as was George Bush, Sr. who lost his second campaign.

  • 10:48:19

    KNOYAgain, the number here on "The Diane Rehm Show" is 1-800-433-8850. Send an email to Here's an email from Phil in Detroit, Mich. who says, "Will the defunding of Planned Parenthood dominate this debate and prevent discussion of more pressing issues, such as foreign policy or expanding the middle class?" And I'll throw that to you, Domenico Montanaro.

  • 10:48:43

    MONTANAROI don't think it'll dominate the debate. I mean, we all know where the Republicans stand on this issue. They were asked, every single one of them, in the New Hampshire forum which I thought was a little bit of a waste of time because they all said, yes, I think they should be defunded. And I think that it's something that you've heard, you know, over the last 20 years or so about Planned Parenthood from conservatives.

  • 10:49:04

    MONTANAROYou know, to the broader issue of Planned Parenthood, though, this is very tricky for Democrats obviously with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley. They've all sort of said the tone of these videos that have come out, you know, are not okay, but that they still support Planned Parenthood and what they do for women's health.

  • 10:49:25

    MONTANAROBut there's also some risk for Republicans. And we saw that with Jeb Bush and his aside comment or his parenthetical about cutting $500 billion or whether or not -- questioning whether $500 billion was necessary to spend on women's health at all. His campaign leader said he misspoke on that. And I know a lot of conservatives were upset that he had gone that far because they felt like they were winning on this issue and wanted to really drive it home more. And instead it had a different effect where it fired up Democrats.

  • 10:49:55

    KNOYHere's another email that just came in from Joe in Florida, who says, "Not one NPR show has actually read the whole list of participants in each debate. Not all of us have them memorized. There are 17. Can you name them all?" Domenico?

  • 10:50:10

    MONTANAROWe can go really quickly through them if you want. We said Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and John Kasich is your nine o'clock. And your five o'clock debate, forum, whatever you want to call it, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, the former Virginia governor...

  • 10:50:30

    KNOYRight, he just got in recently, right.

  • 10:50:31

    MONTANARO...George Pataki who is governor of New York, Bobby Jindal from Louisiana, Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum.

  • 10:50:39

    KNOYWell, and, Joe, thank you for the question. It's a good one, because even though it's easy to say, oh, there are 17, we can't possibly memorize them all...

  • 10:50:45

    MONTANAROI would say...

  • 10:50:46's important to read these names.

  • 10:50:46 can find it on And if you go to, we have plenty on the debate tonight.

  • 10:50:53

    KNOYWell, and to you, Byron York, in that list that Domenico just read, who else do you think bears worth mentioning? We've talked about a lot of people, but who else jumps out for you?

  • 10:51:03

    YORKWell, I think Carly Fiorina jumps out because, you know, I have not watched a single performance of hers, speech of hers in which members of the audience afterwards weren’t saying, wow, she's really good. She has honed a message, a campaign stump speech that just covers more stuff in less time than almost anything, anybody you've ever seen. Very concise, very forceful. I think if anybody has a chance to break out in this earlier debate, it would be her.

  • 10:51:34

    YORKAll these good impressions she's been making on people in Iowa and New Hampshire have not translated into rising national poll numbers, which is why she's in the five o'clock debate and not in the primetime debate. She makes a pretty good impression on Republicans. And I would look for her to possibly break out tonight.

  • 10:51:50

    KNOYOther breakout candidates that you'll be watching, Lara?

  • 10:51:53

    BROWNWell, I'm not sure if he's a breakout in the nine o'clock or not, but certainly former Governor Mike Huckabee is going to be an interesting one to watch.

  • 10:52:02

    KNOYNow, he's run before.

  • 10:52:03

    BROWNHe has run before. I think he sees himself as somebody who is very legitimate to stand on that stage. He has obviously taken on Barack Obama's Iranian deal, and taken on it in such a way that it has been quite incendiary. And so I do think that we're going to see, you know, Mike Huckabee either in his talk show format or trying to find some level of seriousness again and some traction.

  • 10:52:32

    MONTANAROAnd he is a good debater.

  • 10:52:33


  • 10:52:34

    KNOYWell, and speaking of the Iranian deal that you mentioned, Lara, and foreign policy, some people in New Hampshire, Domenico, have said why isn't Lindsey Graham breaking out more. He's known as a foreign policy expert, long experienced in the U.S. Senate.

  • 10:52:47

    MONTANAROBoy, he sure tried. I mean, you know...

  • 10:52:49

    KNOYHe's had John McCain up to New Hampshire campaigning for him.

  • 10:52:51

    MONTANAROWell, yeah, I mean, and some of the comments he's made. I mean, the New Hampshire forum, you know, he really -- when we're talking about viral clips and trying to make headlines, I mean, him saying that he knows how to deal with the Clintons, and he knows Clintons speak, because when Bill Clinton says he didn't have sex with that woman, he did. And when Hillary Clinton says there's everything you need to know about those emails, you don't, right?

  • 10:53:12

    MONTANAROSo he's got that down. He had a viral video about, you know, when Donald Trump held up his cell phone number, he had to destroy his cell phone. He showed however many. But, yeah, right, .4, .75 percent in the polls, people just don't know who he is. Early polls at this point are measuring largely name recognition.

  • 10:53:29

    KNOYI'm Laura Knoy, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Couple last questions for all of you. And as we look ahead to tonight, we talked about the issues a fair bit, Domenico. We talked about immigration, Common Core, foreign policy, Planned Parenthood. Anything we're leaving off of that all important issue list?

  • 10:53:48

    MONTANAROYeah, I mean, I think foreign policy is going to be probably the dominant subject. I mean, the hawks are back in town. And when you look at 2012, you know, it was not exactly the sexiest thing to say, you know, let's ramp up troops in Afghanistan and let's put them back in Iraq. That's not something you heard people saying. You heard candidates, in fact, split saying that, you know, we do need to ramp down in Afghanistan because you had a decade of war and people were -- they understood the polling and how war weary the country was to be able to ramp up more.

  • 10:54:15

    MONTANAROI think that's changed when you look at the Islamic State militant group. And what the debate just should be on how do you -- you know, Jeb Bush also sort of stumbled saying, you know, I want Special Forces, I could see that, but not boots on the ground. And some people said, well, what's the difference between boots on the ground and Special Forces? I think he means a large ramp up of troops. But I think that these are some of the edges on foreign policy that are going to have to be rounded.

  • 10:54:39

    KNOYThat's interesting. Byron York, what do you think, the hawks are back?

  • 10:54:42

    YORKI agree actually on the foreign policy emphasis. First Fox has always spent a good bit of time on foreign policy. I expect that to be the same tonight. Second, if you look at Republican voters, and you ask them, you know, what are the most important issues to you, they rate foreign policy more highly than Democratic voters do. Both groups rate the economy as the top issue. The Republicans are likely to rate the foreign policy as a more important issue to them.

  • 10:55:08

    YORKAnd you are going to see differences I think on Iran. Would you throw President Obama's Iran deal out on day one, or would you wait until day two or three? I think that would be one difference. And also the question of how tough to be on ISIS and still avoid the conundrum of American boots on the ground. It's going to be interesting to see how they handle that.

  • 10:55:28

    KNOYHere's an email from Adrial in Kentucky, who asks, "Will this explosion of candidates likely lead to a consolidation of beliefs in the party as the nomination looms, or a fracturing into multiple fringe beliefs?" Good question, Adrial, thank you. Lara?

  • 10:55:43

    BROWNWell, I think that's a great question, and I do think that what you're going to see first is a fracturing. And eventually as the votes start to come in and we start to approach a nominee, there will be then a reconsolidation. But this is part of the primary process is for Republicans to determine who they want to represent what platform for the Republican Party. And I just would say that the one thing I think all of the candidates are going to have in common tonight, whether they're in the five o'clock or the nine o'clock, is they will take on both Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

  • 10:56:18

    KNOYWell, and just remind us, Byron, as we look ahead to these two debates, the party originally when this process got started, this year's election process, the Republican Party said, we want to limit debates. We don't want too many. There were too many last time around. It was too confusing. What's the thinking this time around, given that we're kicking it off tonight?

  • 10:56:36

    YORKWell, the party's -- the reason this is happening in this way is because the Republican National Committee met after the Romney defeat in 2012 and basically said, part of our problem was we had 20 plus debates in the 2011/2012 cycle, and the candidate emerged too bloodied, too damaged to run an effective general election campaign. I don't particularly believe that was the case, but that's the way they came out of it. So they decided to limit the debates to a maximum of nine.

  • 10:57:07

    YORKAnd so we're seeing the first one. There will be another one next month, but you're not going to have this situation that we sometimes had in earlier cycles where you'd have a debate one day, another debate the next day, another one next week. That's what the Republican Party wanted to avoid. On the other hand, the Democrats had a ton of debates in 2007 and 2008 and did pretty well after that.

  • 10:57:27

    KNOYAll right. All of you, thank you very much for being with us. We'll look forward to watching tonight. Thank you.

  • 10:57:31

    YORKThank you.

  • 10:57:31

    MONTANAROThank you.

  • 10:57:32


  • 10:57:33

    KNOYI'm Laura Knoy sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.

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