WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Republican Party has declared that he wants Thursday’s Republican presidential debate to be “more of a G-rated” event than recent showdowns.
And who doesn’t — given the bullying, sexual innuendo and unintelligible yelling that has made 11 previous Republican face-offs something less than family-friendly?
Even the man responsible for what was perhaps the low point — a not-so-classy assurance about his virility — suggests that it might be time to de-escalate.
Here’s a look at what to watch for on the CNN-hosted debate, beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST at the University of Miami:
GEE: HOW QUAINT
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, the take-no-sides chief fundraiser for the party, has been saying all week that he wants the whatever-it-takes “tone” of past debates to improve on Thursday’s debate stage.
On Wednesday, he described on CNN just how, saying he’d like to see “more of a G-rated debate” than “some of the things that have been said in the past.”
He said the RNC has spoken to the campaigns and to the sponsors about taking steps to “reduce the temperature” on the debate stage and in the audience.
Taking the stage in the state he has represented in government for 16 years, Marco Rubio is facing the prospect of losing the Florida primary to Donald Trump and possibly Ted Cruz in Tuesday’s winner-take-all contest. It’s a painful predicament for the U.S. senator and lawyer who has nursed presidential ambitions for years, rounded up prominent endorsements from establishment Republicans and even stooped to Trump’s schoolyard-taunting style. All that has produced only two primary wins — in Minnesota and Puerto Rico. Even some of Rubio’s Senate colleagues who had endorsed him on Wednesday displayed a bit of a hangover after Rubio won zero contests the night before.
By Wednesday, Rubio himself said publicly on MSNBC that he’s “not entirely proud” of slinging personal insults about Trump’s tan, his hair and the size of his hands — which set off Trump’s racy comment about his anatomy. Rubio said his own children were “embarrassed” by his actions.
In a town hall with MSNBC, Rubio says he knows the attacks are “not what we want from our next president.”
Trump has been speaking in recent days of softness, party unity and potentially presidential behavior. But he’s qualifying it, too, by adding that he can’t just stand there and let Rubio, Kasich and Cruz insult him or tell him to, “breathe.” So watch whether he lets them push his buttons, yells back — or shows the discipline to stay commanding but above the often juvenile tone that Trump himself has set.
Remember: Trump revealed last week that his wife, Melania, does not like when he uses bad language and had urged him to, “be presidential.” But that was before he took the stage in Detroit and bragged about the size of his genitalia.
In the last debate, Cruz and Rubio ganged up on Trump and produced a shout-fest unlike any other. Still, Trump cruised to three primary victories Tuesday night and is leading in delegate-rich contests Tuesday in Ohio and Florida. Now, Cruz holds the slim potential of emerging from Tuesday’s contests as the establishment’s best hope to beat Trump as Rubio and Kasich struggle.
Watch for whether Cruz tries to knock out Rubio and end his candidacy on his home turf, or continues to go after Trump.
KASICH TALKS TO RUST BELT VOTERS
The Ohio governor has been very clear about hanging his presidential hopes on Tuesday’s races on his turf — in Ohio and Illinois, where trade and economic anxiety are high. Expect him to talk, too, about civilizing American politics.
Jeb Bush may no longer be onstage or in the race, but the onetime presumed front-runner and his family are involved again, sort of. Bush summoned Kasich, Cruz and Rubio — but not Trump — for private meetings ahead of the debate, his endorsement eagerly sought by all.
Meanwhile, Bush’s brother, Neil, signed on with Cruz’s campaign.
Look for whether any of the other candidates or the moderators cite the family’s role in the race.