Get ready, folks. The next Republican presidential debate is just around the corner. On Tuesday, the GOP contenders will meet on stage before a live studio audience one last time before the holidays. The CNN debate, which Wolf Blitzer will moderate, will be the fifth GOP showdown of the 2016 election season — and it's not even 2016 yet. While many Americans are no doubt getting debate fatigue, don't tune out this time. The fifth GOP debate will be a must-watch for several reasons.
While the seemingly nonstop barrage of debates this cycle may seem tiresome, the last few forums have had their share of surprises. You've learned, for example, that for all of his bluster, Donald Trump tends to play it low-key when he's face to face with his opponents. You've seen the candidacy of Jeb Bush, who entered the race as the frontrunner and favorite of the Republican establishment, crash and burn at the hands of Marco Rubio. And you've learned that, when confronted with inconsistencies in their policies, the candidates tend to respond by attacking the media — a strategy that won't work nearly as well in a general election as in a Republican primary.
In any event, here are six reasons you shouldn't tune out of the next Republican debate.
It's The Last GOP Debate Of The Year
The next Republican debate will take place in January; in between now and then, many GOP voters will be celebrating the holidays with their families, and generally not thinking about politics.
Because this is the last opportunity the candidates will have to speak in front of a national audience until the new year, they'll all be aiming to leave a lasting impression. That means they're less likely to play it safe, and more likely to pull out all of the stops — which will result in a much more lively debate than the last four.
It's The First Debate Since Trump's Muslim Comments
While Trump has said many inflammatory things, there's been a general consensus in the media that his recent proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. crossed a line. He'll most certainly be questioned on this during the debate — but what's more important is how the rest of the Republicans on stage respond.
It's hazardous terrain. To denounce Trump's proposal is to risk alienating Republican voters, but supporting the plan could alienate everybody else during the general election. Tuesday's debate will be a minefield, and whatever the other candidates say about the Muslim ban could come back to haunt them.
Lindsey Graham Will Be Back
Admittedly, the senator from South Carolina stands little to no chance of winning the Republican nomination, let alone being elected president. But never mind that — Graham has undoubtedly been one of the most colorful, entertaining characters of the Republican debates so far. More than any other candidate in either party, Graham looks like he's having fun, and that makes him fun to watch.
Due to his anemic poll numbers, Graham wasn't invited to participate in the last debate. But he'll be back at the undercard debate this time, and you can bet he'll make it a whole lot more entertaining.
The Cruz-Trump Slugfest Might Finally Happen
Since Ben Carson's collapse at the polls, Ted Cruz has emerged as the biggest threat to Trump's candidacy. In fact, they're now polling neck-and-neck, and some in Hillary Clinton's campaign now believe that Cruz will be the nominee.
The Cruz/Trump dynamic is an interesting one. While they're competing for many of the same voters, they've largely avoided criticizing each other, most likely because they don't want to offend any of those voters. But this detente can't last forever — and it's already showing signs of cracking. Watching the two frontrunners go head-to-head at this debate could be a microcosm of the rest of the campaign.
It Could Be The Establishment's Last Stand
With Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich all lingering in the low single-digits, Rubio is the last candidate with widespread establishment support who still has a chance of winning. Many in the party are optimistic about Rubio's chances, and yet he trails significantly in the polls, and has been for quite some time.
When Trump was his main competition, Rubio intentionally stayed under the radar under the assumption that Trump would eventually collapse. But now, Cruz is his main competition, and many think the Texas senator will go all the way. Expect Rubio — and by proxy, the Republican establishment as a whole — to be much more aggressive this time around.
The Rest Of The Candidates Will Come Out Swinging
Because the top tier of candidates is beginning to solidify — at this point, it's Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and perhaps Carson — the rest of the Republicans may see this debate as their last chance to have an impact. As such, they're likely to go all out this time; any one-liners or zingers they've been keeping in their pocket will finally see the light of day. For that reason, this debate could potentially be the most high-energy — and dirtiest — so far.