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The GOP Debate Season Is Upon Us - Let the Games Begin

Appeared in Huffington Post on 8/5/2015

If you couldn't sit through the two hours of the 2016 Republican Presidential Debate 'Voters First' Forum on CSPAN, not only do I understand, but I've got you covered. The event was organized by New Hampshire's Union Leader newspaper and took place on the campus of St. Anselm College in Manchester.

The Union Leader announced in June that it would be hosting their own Republican primary forum and the original plan was to host it on the same night as the Fox News debate. That's not exactly what happened, as FOX changed the way in which they were accepting candidates. The issue the Union Leader had was just that: the way in which FOX was running the debate. The plan was to allow only those candidates who make up the top 10 slots in the polls. FOX wouldn't divulge what polls they were going to use. though. The entire ordeal seemed, for a while to be a secret.

The Union Leader's publisher, Joseph McQuaid, wrote:

What Fox is attempting to do, and is actually bragging about doing, is a real threat to the first-in-the-nation primary. Fox boasts that it will 'winnow' the field of candidates before New Hampshire gets to do so. That isn't just bad for New Hampshire, it's bad for the presidential selection process by limiting the field to only the best-known few with the biggest bankrolls.

McQuaid also penned an open letter, signed by 56 prominent New Hampshire Republicans, urging FOX and the Republican National Committee (RNC) to change the debate criteria. A move, he said, that should be a wake-up call.

"Voters here have an independent streak," he said, "and they might well be disposed to vote for a so-called 'also-ran' who didn't meet the Fox criteria but who has spent the time and effort here to meet them and answer their questions."

Per RNC rules, any candidates who participate in an unsanctioned debate are barred from future RNC debates. But McQuaid said in an email that he is not concerned. And as long as the forum stays a forum and does not feature multiple candidates on stage interacting with one another, candidates are free to participate in further RNC debates. "Perhaps some of the Fox eligible will prefer a N.H. forum. And, no, I'm unconcerned. Candidates will make their own decisions," he said.

Neither former governor Mike Huckabee nor billionaire Donald Trump were at the forum. Huckabee's Communications Director, Alice Stewart, said he was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. There was, unsurprisingly, no elaboration on what the conflict was. Trump on the other hand, wasn't so vague and responded in the usual Trump way we've become accustomed to, saying,

I feel it is unlikely I will be getting the endorsement from you and the Union Leader. I have made a great fortune based on instinct and that, unfortunately, is my view. Therefore, and for other reasons including the fact that I feel there are too many people onstage to have a proper forum, I will not be attending.

There was also some word going around that Trump was unhappy with some of the coverage he received from the paper and was snubbing them, which may be the case; but based on his statement, it was his usual inability to handle not being center stage, adored and considered the most important person in the room. On Thursday, FOX has him center stage with all of the other candidates flanking him, so there's a pretty good chance he'll show up.

The forum went on as scheduled and proved to be a cordial event with little infighting among the candidates. It was organized into two rounds. The first consisted of candidates answering questions on the issues within five minute allotted slots. The second round, also constrained to five minutes, consisted of shorter questions, with an additional 30 seconds allowed for the candidate to make his or her pitch to voters. Rather than lining up the 14 candidates on stage, a logistical and camera operator's nightmare, each candidate took their turn sitting with the moderator.

The candidates, in no particular order, were Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham onstage, while Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio were on a televised link from D.C., where they were probably fervently trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

Liberals Unite's Ann Werner has a good run down of the topics in her post.

In a nut shell, the candidates as a whole, agreed that Hillary Clinton and President Obama are evil incarnate and pathological liars; Bernie Sanders is a Socialist, so equally evil; Liberals like to be viewed as victims and are what's wrong with this country; just about every social program including but not limited to Social Security, Medicare, Planned Parenthood and Obamacare should be abolished or, at the very least, privatized; regulations in general and any attempt to address climate change are job killers; screw the minimum wage and raise the retirement age; and immigration was a free for all of ridiculous claims and, alas, no solutions.

With that out of the way, Thursday on FOX should be quite a show and the Donald will be center stage, so popcorn sales should be through the roof. It's hard to imagine that it'll be any different as far as questions go and I'd expect that most of them are going to be softballs.

It's not difficult to speculate what's going to be covered as most of the questions are already teed up. Trump has managed to put immigration on the lips of every politician, voter, and reporter in the country. The Republican assault on Planned Parenthood will no doubt come up. The Iran deal will be unanimously trashed. And there will be the requisite cries to repeal Obamacare.

Here's what won't be covered: Inequality and stagnant wages; trade strategy; rebuilding the nation's infrastructure; student debt; climate change; fair taxes; police brutality; campaign finance; and the nation's incarceration rate. All topics that are on the minds of voters -- and all topics that are kryptonite to the GOP. And since it's being held and moderated and controlled by FOX, none of these issues will addressed.

So here's my advice for Thursday: get comfortable, grab your favorite bottle of liquor, and pretend it's just another prime time sitcom. Matt Taibbi over at "Rolling Stone" put together a GOP drinking game for the event.

Here's the list:

Suggested drinkable comments such as, "Anyone mentions Hitler, Nazis or Neville Chamberlain. Includes related imagery, e.g. 'ovens'" and "Claims a positive relationship with a minority. Also known as the, "Some of my best friends are..."rule.'" Or the more obvious and sure to get you really drunk, "Anyone invokes St. Ronald Reagan" and "Someone promises to 'take America back.'"

If you're playing or seriously considering playing this game on Thursday night, it might be a good idea to call in sick and have the number to the closest detox -- it's going to be a long night.