What To Expect In The GOP Debate06:55
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The image of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump on an electronic display announcing the Republican presidential debate, hosted by CNN, Tuesday night. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
The image of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump on an electronic display announcing the Republican presidential debate, hosted by CNN, Tuesday night. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Tonight's Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas is the first since the terrorist attacks in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California, and also the first time candidates can confront frontrunner Donald Trump on his recent call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Here & Now GOP political analyst Paris Dennard speaks with host Jeremy Hobson about what to expect from tonight's prime-time debate, which is being aired on CNN at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Interview Highlights: Paris Dennard

What are you watching for in tonight’s debate?

"Tonight’s debate, I view, is going to be about polls, policy and purpose."

“Tonight’s debate, I view, is going to be about polls, policy and purpose. Polls, looking at the polls, you can see that Trump is still leading despite his controversial statements on Muslims, and if you look at the rest of the candidates, they’re declining. And so with the status of the race right now – with the polls – Trump is still leading. Can he sustain it? When you look at policy, the debate is going to be about foreign policy. Which candidates are going to be able to strengthen their connection with the base and show that they are fully capable of being commander-in-chief? I think it’s a good opportunity for Chris Christie to do that given his past leadership. I was at an event with him last week and he was previewing some lines about on-the-job experience. You can’t come into this without having the experience that he has and job readiness. And so I think it’d be a good opportunity for someone like a Chris Christie, but also an important moment for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who are leading right now, to say these are my policies as it relates to foreign policy. And the last point is purpose. What is the purpose for some of these candidates that are in the single digits? Do they have a legitimate path to victory and can they rise to the top as it relates to foreign policy.”

Are you including Jeb Bush in that?

“I’m including people like Jeb Bush in that. I’m including people like Carly Fiorina. I’m including people like a Rand Paul. When you look, and consistently, they have not been able to use the debate performances to get an uptick in their polling numbers, you have to ask them ‘Do you have the money to keep going and do you have the infrastructure?’”

Who do you expect to go after Trump, if anyone, and will Trump go after Ted Cruz?

"Ted Cruz is the darling with the conservative and the Tea Party portions of our party."

“I don’t think it’s a smart strategy for Donald Trump to continue his attacks against Ted Cruz. You saw Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh come out strongly against Trump in defense of Ted Cruz because Ted Cruz is the darling with the conservative and the Tea Party portions of our party and I don’t think it’s a smart move for any other candidate to actually go and attack Donald Trump because it has not worked. Why waste your capital on that? Why not go after the other candidates who you have a better shot at taking supporters away from them by positioning yourself to be more credible, more likely to be commander in chief? But I think you will see some fireworks between Ted Cruz and people like Chris Christie and a Rand Paul who have more experience as it relates to commenting on foreign policy issues.”

What is the strategy for Marco Rubio?

“I think Sen. Rubio is exactly where he wants to be. He wants to be considered as someone who stays the course, someone who is level-headed and someone who has the experience to wait out this process. And as he does this strategically, you can see he’s getting more donors, more large donors on his side and he can position himself not to be on the extreme right like a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump, or not to be someone who isn’t really taken that seriously like a Huckabee, when he looks at the polling. So being right in the middle is a good sweet spot for Marco Rubio and you’ll consistently see him duck controversial issues, reinforce his narrative and say why he’s about moving forward and not being about the past.”

Will we hear any differences from the candidates on the issue of climate change?

“You know, not too much. You have someone like a Gov. Kasich whose spokesman said climate change is real and that he has serious concerns with the agreement that was crafted, in his opinion, to avoid having to send it to the Senate for approval. Most of the Republicans on stage have very nuanced differences as it relates to this deal, but the important thing to remember, Jeremy, is that no one is really happy with this deal. I was talking to some people who work at the EPA who are part of the administration, they’re not completely happy with the deal and Republicans aren’t happy with the deal.”

But the EPA and Republicans are unhappy with the deal for very different reasons.

"The focus of this debate is going to pivot more strongly into the problems with President Obama’s negotiating skills."

“True, and they believe it doesn’t have any teeth. They don’t think that, you know, when you give somebody the option and not a mandate, that’s problematic. But I think you will see that the focus of this debate is going to pivot more strongly into the problems with President Obama’s negotiating skills, the problem with President Obama’s standing as it relates to foreign affairs and things, and negotiating and dealing with foreign leaders. Look, the recent poll that was conducted by NBC and Wall Street Journal says 73 percent want the next president to take a different approach from President Obama. And so these are opportunities for Republicans to say 'Here’s a different approach on climate, here’s a different approach as it relates to defeating ISIL, here’s a different approach as it relates to the economy.'"

Guest

  • Paris Dennard, Here & Now political analyst and Republican strategist who led outreach to the African-American community for George W. Bush's adminstration. He tweets @PARISDENNARD.

This segment aired on December 15, 2015.

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