Boots and Birth Certificates: What the Candidates Might Face at Tonight’s GOP Debate

Top-Polling GOP Candidates Participate In First Republican Presidential Debate

Back when the main stage was more crowded.

The second-to-last Republican presidential debate before the February 9th New Hampshire primary is tonight. That means that the candidates left on the main stage are gearing up for battle.

The main stage has now been whittled down to just former businessman Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich. PolitickerNJ decided to round up some of the most recent arguments, controversies and promises that the candidates are likely to face tonight.

Donald Trump

Even without the party support, Donald Trump has proven that his time on the main stage will not be ending any time soon. He still holds a bulk of support in important states like Iowa and New Hampshire. But a comparison he made likening himself to conservative hero Ronald Reagan on Bloomberg on Thursday might be a way some of the other candidates can try to undermine the businessman who has never held office. Reagan is often considered the pinnacle of conservative success while to Trump has asserted himself as the thorn in the side of the national Republican establishment during this presidential race.

You can also expect candidates to come after Trump for remarks he made that seemed to mock a reporter with a muscular disorder. Bush has already released a video doing so that starts with a Google search of the words “Donald Trump is a Jerk.”

Trump has also been losing some momentum in Iowa with Cruz surpassing his 22 percent in polls with his own 25 percent rating among likely voters. Expect Trump to trade barbs with Cruz in the brash style that has helped his popularity skyrocket.

Ted Cruz

Speaking of Cruz, he is likely going to be the target on two huge issues tonight.

Early this week, Trump raised a question of whether or not Cruz qualified as a “natural-born” U.S. citizen since he was born in Canada to a U.S. mother and a Cuban father who was also a U.S. green card holder. While the law is clear that Cruz qualifies—he even renounced his Canadian citizenship—expect Trump to come at Cruz with this again tonight, especially as the Texas senator keeps gaining on him.

In 2012, when Cruz was running for Senator, he received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of loans from global mega-bank Goldman Sachs and CitiBank. That wouldn’t be a problem if Cruz hadn’t failed to report it, violating federal election rules. The New York Times reported that error on Wednesday. While Cruz is trying to play off the failure to report as a non-issue and honest mistake, debate watchers can expect the moderators to hold Cruz accountable for those loans.

Marco Rubio

Somehow, a stylish pair of boots Marco Rubio wore on the campaign trail has caught the national attention. Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise USA SuperPAC even created a video about how Rubio’s “boots were made for flipping,” parodying both Rubio’s choice to wear the slightly healed ankle boots and his supposed record of changing opinions on issues like Syria and immigration.

As always, Rubio can expect to face critique over his participation in the bipartisan “gang of eight” senators who sought immigration reform in 2013, his relative inexperience compared to other candidates and the number of missed votes he has had since making his presidential run.

Here is the boots video:

Ben Carson

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson—who once seemed like an anti-establishment candidate whose following could rival Trump—has been slipping lately. His numbers are falling and, now, his campaign is splintering.

Just hours before tonight’s debate, Carson’s campaign finance chair, Dean Parker, quit. That resignation comes after a Politico report detailing troubling spending from the Carson campaign, including $20,000 monthly payments to Parker. Carson’s inability to keep track of his campaign’s financial situation might open up the floor for queries on how he can be expected to manage the country.

Chris Christie

“Flip-flopper” is a favorite term of those in the political world. Now, Governor Christie is seeing the term applied to him as he faces criticism that his opinion has shifted on key Republican issues like Planned Parenthood and gun control.

In 1994, the then-freeholder candidate in Morris County was quoted in the Star-Ledger as saying that he supported “Planned Parenthood privately with [his] personal contribution…” He also identified early on as pro-choice and later shifted his standpoint to pro-life, a stance which is more in line with many Republicans.

On the gun control issue, the New York Times has opined that Christie’s shift toward the more pro-gun right has come as a byproduct of his political aspirations.

As it stands, both abortion and gun laws are at the center of many Republican debates so the Governor is likely to face tough questions about his perceived opinion shifts.

John Kasich

The Ohio Governor has been rising in New Hampshire polls so tonight’s debate watchers can expect the other candidates to dig into his past to find ways to make him less appealing to likely voters. He will probably be targeted for his more lax approach in immigration than some of his competitors (he does not want to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country) and his support for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). He also voted to ban assault rifles while he was in Congress in the 90s, something that could make him vulnerable to attack.

Even so, Kasich has recently avoided some of the high-profile commentary and conflict that has been plaguing his competitors so he enters tonight’s debate with less hanging over his head.

Jeb Bush

Bush’s SuperPAC has really upped their activity level lately. The group created a Twitter and is using it to blast the other candidates. Some say this is an effort by Bush to use his big money to undermine his competitors, especially as his he continues to be little more than a blip on the radar for most voters.

Tonight we can expect Bush to compare his record as Governor against that of Christie and Kasich. We can also expect him to throw his former protégé Rubio under the bus.

Also, the new ad calling Donald Trump a “jerk” might not earn Bush any points tonight. The problem with savaging Trump is that it might encourage the business mogul to go after Bush. Trump’s supporters don’t seem to mind when he takes jabs at the other contenders so Bush’s tactic may end up backfiring.

The debate starts at 9 p.m. and will air on Fox Business.