This One Republican Candidate Needs The GOP Debate To Go Well More Than Anyone

When the fourth GOP presidential debate rolls around on Tuesday night, you'll be seeing some very familiar faces, even though the field will be pared-down a bit — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina will all be there. And when it's all said and done, the one with the most on the line might be the last name on that list: Carly Fiorina's the candidate who needs a good debate more than anyone else, because she's still the one with the most theoretical potential.

Fiorina didn't even make the first main-stage debate, having to first fight her way out of the Fox News undercard field. She was dubbed the conventional wisdom winner of that first, August 6th showdown, and the subsequent positive press and attention helped vault her into the primetime event. And after her debut on the big stage, it seemed like she might rise even higher — she'd even managed to creep into second place, trailing only Donald Trump.

But it all slipped away almost as quickly as it arrived. Within weeks, her numbers had sunk back into the single-digit depths, reminiscent of the revolving-door of auditions the GOP primary saw in 2012, with candidates like Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain. And now, sitting at a national average of just over three percent — 2.5 percent was the minimum threshold to make the debate — she absolutely must turn in a dynamic performance to keep her hopes alive.

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Fiorina isn't the most desperate candidate, for what it's worth, at least not relative to her expected performance when she entered the race — that title undoubtedly goes to Jeb Bush, whose political future is on virtual life-support, and who seemingly can't get through a debate without suffering some kind of brutal, humiliating moment.

But that's ultimately because Bush has proven to be a very, very, very bad candidate: ill-suited to the political mood of the moment, awkward and lifeless on the stump, and unable to effectively navigate his brother's presidential record. Even suggesting that "Jeb needs a big night" presumes that there's actually a real, foreseeable way for him to have one, and he's done nothing in months of campaigning to justify that belief.

Conversely, the reason Fiorina needs the moment more than Bush — or even Marco Rubio, who's been snapping up some of Bush's fleeing establishment support — is that she's actually the perfect candidate for the moment, if the Republican Party could do itself a favor for once.

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After all, the wildly successful campaigns of Trump and Carson have spoken to how strong the appeal of the political outsider is in the Republican base right now. But there's a problem: both are egregiously flawed candidates. You've got a bombastic, rude, arrogant billionaire on one side, and on the other a seemingly friendly man with perilously little policy knowledge, a penchant for offensive historical comparisons, and a seemingly shaky recollection of his own past.

Simply put, Fiorina should be absolutely poised to slide into the role these two deeply flawed candidates currently occupy — the political outsider who emerges from private life to reclaim the Republican Party from the brink. And if she did, she'd probably play it better than anybody else could. But she could be running out of time to make that case to the Republican base, so don't be surprised if she tries to land some major hits come Tuesday night.