On Tuesday night, it'll once again be time for the biggest, weirdest show in American politics. That's right, it's yet another Republican presidential debate! This'll be the fifth full-fledged debate on the GOP side, and the second one hosted by CNN, and it figures to touch on a broad range of topics — after all, a hell of a lot of controversial things have happened and been proposed since the candidates last faced off in Milwaukee in November. But here's a question for you: will the GOP debate mention the "War on Christmas," that annual conservative bugaboo?
If you're much of a political observer, you probably already know the steps to this dance pretty well. First, some entity somewhere — whether it's a politician, a celebrity, a company, or so forth — starts wishing people happy holidays, in recognition of the end of year season, but they don't actually say the word "Christmas," and that inevitably gets some predominantly Christian conservatives all riled up. Or, maybe a town or city hall holiday display just isn't quite to their liking, whether because it incorporates too many faiths, or even secularism as well.
Considering how many conservatives have taken to railing against so-called outrage culture in recent years, it's pretty rich to watch many of the same people get so whipped up over nothing each year. But this year it's been enabled somewhat, thanks both to rhetoric from some major Republican candidates, and the usual focus conservative media outlets bring to bear.
After all, how much fuss is a red Starbucks cup that doesn't say "Merry Christmas," or feature Christmas imagery, really worth? If you're Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, the answer seems to be "a least a little" — he raised the idea of boycotting Starbucks, despite claiming that Trump Tower hosted "one of the most successful" Starbucks locations around, and promised that if he's elected president, everyone will be saying Merry Christmas again.
But even beyond the ostensible frontrunner, there are many Republican candidates — folks like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for example — for whom questions on the War on Christmas would be pretty perfectly tee'd up. These two have most strenuously run on a religious freedom platform, and they're sure to take any opportunity to grouse about secular culture.
It'd be just the sort of question you'd suspect the Republican National Committee would be happy to hear, as well. The last two debates have been pretty vivid demonstrations of what the Republican Party does and doesn't want from its debates — namely, they want open-ended questions on areas of shared agreement between the candidates, not pointed questions designed to stoke intra-party divisions like the third CNBC-hosted debate had. If CNN decides to float some questions on the so-called War on Christmas, it should be well-received by the candidates and the party apparatus alike.