Somewhere in a parallel universe, top-ranking Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio are gearing up for an inaugural primary debate where they will make their pitches to voters, contest one another’s policy proposals, and calmly try to skirt attacks from tea party insurgents and nothing-to-lose outsiders.
Unfortunately for them, this is not that universe. This is Donald Trump’s universe.
So instead, on Aug. 6, in Cleveland, the GOP hopefuls will appear stage right and stage left, flanking a real estate mogul and reality television star who is all but certain to steal the spotlight, go on the offensive and thwart their hopes for a peaceful debate.
Trump’s presence at center stage — his reward if he maintains his lead in the polls — is likely to transform the first Republican debate into a major media event, bringing big ratings to Fox News, the debate sponsor. By the same token, however, it will likely turn the traditionally policy-focused event into a pageant of personality, which is a potential nightmare for other candidates.