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28 Jan 2016

Four days before Iowans caucus, Republican presidential candidates will debate tonight in Hawkeye State as Donald Trump, the party’s frontrunner, holds a town hall event to benefit veterans just three miles from the Des Moines debate site.

After Fox News taunted Trump this week in a press release, Trump decided to skip the event and beat Fox News boss Roger Ailes at his own game. On Thursday, Trump said the debate will “be a total disaster.”

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
The "debate" tonight will be a total disaster - low ratings with advertisers and advertising rates dropping like a rock. I hate to see this.
5:20 AM - 28 Jan 2016

The reality TV star, with a huge assist from Fox News, has turned the event into must-see television. Some think Trump may even make a surprise appearance. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said on Thursday evening that “in this cycle, anything is possible.”

Gabriel Sherman ✔ @gabrielsherman
Realistic chance Trump could have his cake and eat it, too: he told people this afternoon he might go to debate tonight after his event.
12:04 PM - 28 Jan 2016

But Trump has already won this round versus Fox News. He has shown he has the leverage, exposed Fox News’s many weaknesses and vulnerabilities, dominated the news cycle, and ensured that he will continue to do so during and after the event.

If Fox News gets decent ratings, Trump could still claim credit by arguing that viewers tuned in to see whether Trump would show up and how the candidates would respond without Trump there.

Trump’s absence may pose the biggest problem for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), though his establishment GOP fanboys/fangirls who have been predicting a Rubio surge that hasn’t materialized for the entire election cycle are doing their best to again spin that Rubio will benefit the most. Fox News has not disclosed to its viewers that its Washington Bureau Chief and the man who may be most responsible for crafting debate questions has a daughter who holds a top position in the Rubio campaign. Apparently, there is nothing to see here at all.

Because Trump will not be at the debate, Rubio may have to fend off many more attacks from his establishment GOP rivals who want to overtake him in New Hampshire. And even if Rubio has a breakout performance, he may not get the bump that he needs from it. After Iowa’s Democrats caucused in 2004, a surging John Edwards finished in second place behind John Kerry, who would eventually win the nomination. Howard Dean, who had been the frontrunner, finished in third but dominated the news cycle with his “Dean Scream.” Edwards would have surged even more had it not been for the Dean Scream, but the North Carolina Democrat lost a lot of his momentum because he could not elbow his way into the news cycle for days after the Dean Scream. Rubio will face the same dynamic. No matter how well he does, perhaps with Fox News putting a thumb on the scale for him, Rubio will have to compete with ALL THINGS TRUMP in the days ahead, and that diminishes the opportunities he will have to get a significant surge.

Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Jim Gilmore will be in the undercard debate (7PM EST), which Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer will moderate. Huckabee and Santorum—the last two winners of the Iowa Caucuses—will head to Trump’s event after the undercard debate.

Chris Christe, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Dr. Ben Carson and Sens. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will be in the main event. Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace will moderate the primetime debate at 9 PM EST.

Those looking for even a semi-decent discussion on immigration will be disappointed. Fox News is prioritizing the concerns of a Muslim activist and an illegal immigrant activist—both of whom will be questioners. Those who have been impacted by illegal immigration—like Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose son was murdered by an illegal immigrant—will apparently not get a voice. Neither will Americans laid off after companies abused the H-1B visa system.

For some reason, Ailes seems hellbent on promoting the centrist Kelly as the face of the network. According to Politico, Ailes’s press statement that was the last straw for Trump “was meant to redirect Trump’s fire from Kelly to Ailes and the network.” And New York Magazine reported that Fox News “is split between Kelly’s allies like Brit Hume and conservative anchors that are furious that Kelly… has become the face of the network.”

Perhaps Ailes could have gotten Trump to reconsider by apologizing. Or he could have diffused the situation long before it flared up replacing Kelly with someone like Shannon Bream, who had a standout and widely-praised performance in the 2011 GOP debate in South Carolina. More personable than Kelly while also being more fluent on the issues, Bream may be a better–and more impartial– moderator than Kelly. But maybe Ailes doesn’t want Kelly to be his network’s Wally Pipp after promoting her so heavily.

Stay tuned to Breitbart News for live updates throughout the evening.

7:07: The crowd boos when MacCallum points out that some in the GOP hate Cruz/Trump so much they would rather want Hillary Clinton in the White House.

When Fiorina is asked about whether the GOP is in crisis, she speaks about the chasm between what the people care about on the ground and what the media/pundits care about. She says that has been the biggest surprise of the campaign and asks Iowans to vote for her to “take the government back.”

7:03: Santorum is asked whether Monday night will be his last stand. He blasts Fox News and the media for not promoting the undercard and accuses them of “segregating” and trying to take Iowa out of the process. Santorum says if the same rules were in place four years ago, he would have been in the undercard debate. Santorum blasts a certain “entertainer” (but Santorum will go to Trump’s event after the debate) and the networks for not spending enough time on issues he says are important to voters. Hemmer asks why he is going to Trump’s event and Santorum says he is “not going to though mud at anybody on the stage tonight” or “attack Donald Trump.” He says he and Huckabee were asked to come to an event where money is going to be raised for veterans and he is going because he doesn’t have anything to do at 9PM and wants to help raise money for vets.

7:02 PM EST: Hemmer asks Huckabee about his diminishing support in Iowa. Huckabee says it’s not that his message isn’t working but it is “not getting out.” He says his message is the same as eight years ago when he won Iowa’s caucuses. He says American worker are getting “gut-punched” and not getting a “fair shake” in the economy. He says he is talking about preserving life and getting rid of abortion by applying the 5th/14th amendments to every person since conception. He advocates for the Fair Tax to “revive our economy” so people are “rewarded for their work rather than punished for it.”

7:00 PM EST: The candidates for the undercard debate take the stage. Why in the world is Jim Gilmore even here?