Seventeen candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president will be featured in two debates tomorrow night hosted by Fox News. Ten will face each other in a debate in prime time, while the remaining seven will debate earlier in the evening.
A University of Missouri professor internationally recognized as a scholar of presidential debates says there is typically more value in these primary debates than in those held closer to the general election.
Professor of Communication Mitchell McKinney says still in question going into that debate is what the identity of the party will be in the 2016 campaign cycle, and whether that will be represented by a more moderate or a more conservative candidate.
McKinney told Missourinet it will be, “A discussion, a debate of, ‘What kind of party are we, what are we all about, what are we going to stand for?'”
“Will there be one of more so-called moderate Republicans emerge as the frontrunner? What about this, and I think there’s a slew of them, a slew of the candidates that tend to lean more right in terms of their issue positions,” said McKinney.
McKinney says from a voters’ perspective, there is often more to learn at a debate at this stage of a campaign than in one held later, when many voters’ minds are already made up.
“As a frontrunner I’ve seen the polls, even if we look at sort of an average of these polls, it has Donald Trump at 18, 19, 20-percent. That leaves a lot of undecided or softly committed … or simply someone making a decision based on name recognition,” said McKinney. “Once we start to see these candidates perform in these debates [we often see] great change and shifts in commitments, and so I think that’s one of the things we point to in primary debates is that they tend to have much more of an effect in helping people make decisions.”
Donald Trump has dominated national coverage of the Republican field of presidential candidates in recent weeks. McKinney says it will also be interesting to see Trump have to share the floor.
“Once he’s on the debate stage and he has to share, that’s a feature of these debates, with multiple candidates … share the microphone, share the time, we see him interact not just in his own private interviews or his own staged events, but he’s standing there right next to these folks,” said McKinney, “how does he interact with them? How does he handle them? How does he address them? How does he deal with counterpunches when one of them goes after him? All of those dynamics are yet to be seen.”