CNBC Debate Preview

So we’ve had another “undercard” debate, this one limited to four candidates. To me the surprise was the CNBC moderators, who for the most part behaved like you’d have expected Fox News moderators to behave in the first debate, conducting an internal conservative-to-conservative conversation with a heavy emphasis on corporate taxes. Or maybe I’m just over-reacting to Rick Santelli standing up for the American creditor and Larry Kudlow getting to plant a question.

The other surprise was that only two candidates were asked about the overriding news story of the week: the Boehner/McConnell/Obama budget deal, which was approved by the House today amidst considerable conservative shrieking. Jindal hated it, of course, because True Conservatism, but didn’t find a way to come back to it; Graham supported it, of course, because it engorged the Pentagon budget, but he, too, never came back to it.

There were interesting moments, including Jindal’s suggestion that high student loan default rates were the way to keep for-profit colleges “accountable,” and Pataki asserting foreign governments have hacked HRC’s email server. The CNBC people seemed enchanted by Graham’s usual warmongering. But if anyone was expecting a “breakout moment,” they were disappointed.

As for the Big Show just ahead, it’s hard to imagine Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Marco Rubio being satisfied with one brief question about the budget deal: it’s their biggest chance of the cycle to show that they are more contemptuous of the RINO Establishment than are Trump or Carson. There’s also the possibility that someone–Kasich, maybe even Bush?–will defend the deal and the underlying logic that the GOP should not be threatening a debt default or a government shutdown over empty fist-shaking at Barack Obama.

Beyond all that, the punditocracy has decided Ben Carson is the guy with the big target on his back, and that Jeb Bush is in real danger of going the way of Scott Walker if he doesn’t do well tonight. You have to wonder if the two-hour limit (including commercials and opening and closing statements) will limit the damage to any of these people.

I’ll be back with the live blog at 8:00 PM EDT.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.