Republican Debate Death Watch: Who Will Be The Next To Go?

Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images.
It’s early, but this election is weird. Very weird. On the Democratic side, last-place and-polling-at-almost-0% former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is doing Taylor Swift covers while Bernie Sanders makes detailed, substantive critiques of Hillary Clinton’s policy record. But at least things are relatively calm — and small.

On the other side, the big news is that, the day before the party’s third debate, neurosurgeon and political novice Ben Carson is beating Donald Trump in new polls. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are more or less tied for third, but there are still 10 other candidates who will appear onstage during the evening to talk economic issues. Only governors Scott Walker and Rick Perry have left the race. Will a bad performance spell the end for anyone? No one knows! But we could be nearing the end for at least a few of them.

You can watch the third Republican debate Wednesday night on CNBC. The early debate starts at 6 pm ET, and the main event starts at 8 pm ET.

Jeb Bush
It’s impossible to ignore how unhappy the former Florida governor has looked during public appearances recently. Talking to Stephen Colbert on the Late Show, speaking at debates, answering questions at campaign appearances — Bush just hasn’t shown the comfort or passion of someone who really wants to be president. Recent polling shows that voters can sense that, too. The campaign has cut its payroll, and major donors are reportedly worried — anyone hoping for a fourth Bush term will probably be disappointed.

Carly Fiorina
Fiorina had a great second debate, but her biggest moment was based on a lie that seems to have caught up with her. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO claimed there was video proof that Planned Parenthood employees had dismembered a viable fetus, but her claim was rapidly and definitively debunked. The surge she had enjoyed is gone now, so Fiorina needs a new issue to focus on to regain the support she’d lost. If she plays loose with facts again, it could be the last straw for voters.

Chris Christie
Unfortunately for Christie, the biggest headline he earned this week was for talking too loudly in an Amtrak train’s Quiet Car. According to a poll released Tuesday, he's got the support of only 1% of voters. If Christie can make it through the first few primaries, some of the (many) voters who are still deciding who to support might decide they like him, but Christie isn't known for his patience, or for losing gracefully. The big question is whether voters decide they want to start hearing from real candidates before the New Jersey governor's campaign runs out of money.

Rand Paul
The Libertarian appeal of Paul isn't as wide as his most passionate supporters had hoped, but that doesn't mean he's going anywhere. He's the only GOP candidate to speak out against government surveillance programs, and he's a supporter of both criminal-justice and drug-law reform. He's still incredibly conservative — he's criticized the 1965 Civil Rights Act and is anti-abortion — but Paul will be shouting at other candidates about warrantless searches into the spring.

Mike Huckabee
Ben Carson is the social conservative of the day. So although Huckabee may be doing a little better than some candidates, voters looking for someone who opposes abortion in all circumstances and supports "religious freedom" over marriage equality have many younger, more dynamic choices.

John Kasich
Kasich has managed to do surprisingly well in the first two debates, and his friendly-dad persona contrasts with Trump's aggressive meanness. He's also been campaigning a lot in New Hampshire. It's hard to say much about the Ohio governor, because he's still mostly on the sidelines, but he waited a long time to get into the race, and he may be waiting further to see what happens once the current sideshow subsides.

Everyone At The Kids’ Table
Believe it or not, there are still four candidates who can’t earn a spot at the main event but haven’t yet ended their campaigns. Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Lindsey Graham will take the stage at 6 pm ET. There’s even one more — former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore — who couldn’t even scare up the 1% support required to qualify for the opening debate. Any one of these candidates could drop out tomorrow or stick around through the GOP convention, but none of them is going to stage a stunning comeback. Don’t expect anyone from the main debate to drop out before at least one of these five does.

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