It's no secret that tomorrow’s presidential debate will be all about Donald Trump. But beyond Trump and his possible implosion, viewers will be scrutinizing the candidates for their views on serious issues.
Business owners are certainly among those who want to hear a substantive discussion of issues such as the economy, taxes, Obamacare, and immigration.
The stakes are high. 17 Republican hopefuls contend in two separate debates. The prime-time slot will feature top-polling Republicans, like Trump, who commands the lead with 24 percent of likely Republican voters.
Trump will go head-to-head with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who are polling at 13 percent and 10 percent respectively, according to CBS News' latest presidential poll.
Seven other candidates will join the three, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, whose candidacy, according to some political observers, has inexplicably failed to take off. Rubio is polling at 6 percent to Paul's 4 percent.
An earlier debate will feature contenders who are mostly polling in only the low single digits, including two-time Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett Packard and the only other woman in the race besides Hillary Clinton.
Perry polls at 2 percent, dead even with Jindal. And Fiorina barely registers with voters at less than 0.5 percent.
But even this lower tier will have an opportunity to make themselves known to electorate, and some could even emerge with an advantage.
Here are six things to watch out for in Thursday’s debate:
1. The Donald
The mega-billionaire real estate entrepreneur has managed to turn his loud mouth and brash style into a populist complaint against status quo politics and politicians. And guess what? That message has resonated with many would-be Republican voters. Yet it's a long way to election day, so Trump will have to prove himself on serious issues.
“I’m curious to see how Donald Trump will perform, and how he will engage with other candidates on substantive stuff, and policy, and I’m curious how the other candidates will respond to him,” says Stan Veuger, a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute.
2. Wage Stagnation and Economic Growth
The economy has recovered since the dark days of the Great Recession, but anemically so, with about 2 percent growth per year. Wages for most workers have barely kept pace, notching the smallest increase on record, at 0.7 percent in the second quarter. And without increasing wages, economists expect weak growth for the foreseeable future.
“It’s one of the most important things for the upcoming election, and there will be a great deal of focus on how to address wage stagnation,” says Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. “I am looking forward to hearing what the GOP candidates have to say.”
3. Taxes, Taxes, Taxes
It wouldn’t be a Republican face-off without talk of cutting taxes and slashing spending for everything from food stamps to the Social Security trust fund.
Expect to hear about plans for a national flat tax, as well as a reduction in the corporate tax rate and capital-gains rate.
Many candidates are also likely to talk about adding an amendment to the Constitution that requires a balanced budget.
4. Health Care
The drumroll will be relentless to ditch the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
Carly Fiorina said in a recent phoner Town Hall that she’d return the health-care system to the free market and let the states manage the cost of care.
“We have to repeal Obamacare,” Fiorina said. “It is an 80,000-page monstrosity.”
Ben Carson said in a New Hampshire forum for the Republican candidates Monday that Obamacare "flies in the face of what we are as a nation." He’d replace it with a system that relies on health-savings accounts.
Despite the call for comprehensive immigration reform from entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and the nation’s farmers, the whole notion is at an impasse in Congress.
Trump has thrown gasoline on the fire by comparing Mexican migrant workers to rapists, and saying he’d build a protective fence along the country’s southern border.
Unfortunately, contenders have followed suit. During the New Hampshire forum, Perry said he’d use the U.S. Air Force to patrol the border 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Bush said he’d drastically cut back on the number of immigrants, in part by disallowing visas to parents and siblings for legal immigrants. Expect to hear more talk like this.
6. A Dark Horse
Remember, two debates are scheduled for Thursday. The first, for the lesser-polling candidates, referred to cheekily as "the kids' table," offers an opportunity for one of the presidential hopefuls to emerge from the shadows.
“There will be a winner in each debate, and someone will step out of the second tier as the winner,” John Hudak, a fellow in government studies at Brookings Institution, says. “And if you are on the debate stage without Donald Trump, it will be easier.”