The Republican presidential candidates, increasingly certain that their televised debates can have make-or-break consequences for their campaigns, are preparing aggressive new tactics for their next face-off on Wednesday, hoping to draw voters away from the surprisingly durable Donald J. Trump as the 2016 race enters a more combative phase.
With the onetime front-runners Jeb Bush and Scott Walker sagging in the polls after middling performances in the last debate, on Aug. 6 — and with Mr. Trump rising despite divisive comments — many of the candidates are convinced that they are better off using the debates to make forceful and targeted appeals to viewers, rather than trying to knock out Mr. Trump, advisers to several campaigns said.
They point to the improved political fortunes of Carly Fiorina and John Kasich after they gave crisp and confident answers in August, and of Ben Carson, whose appeal among social conservatives has intensified since he discussed God, freedom and his experiences as a surgeon at the end of the last debate.
“There’s no panic here; it’s not like we have to swing for the fences, but rather, the goal is to hit some real singles in Wednesday’s debate,” said Ed Goeas, a senior adviser to Mr. Walker, the Wisconsin governor. “Now that we’re heading into the fall political season, it’s a natural time to take the campaign to the next level.”
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For Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, and Mrs. Fiorina, the mission is clear, if not simple: Shame the seemingly shameless Mr. Trump.
Both are expected to take on Mr. Trump most aggressively — Mr. Bush, after being mercilessly derided for his leadership ability and energy level; Mrs. Fiorina, in response to attacks by Mr. Trump on her business record and even her looks.
Mr. Bush’s advisers say he will confront Mr. Trump for not “sharing the values” of conservatives, as one put it. Mrs. Fiorina, Republicans close to her say, has a more delicate balance to strike as she tries to rise above any attacks from Mr. Trump while making him look small if he unloads them.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, frustrated that the last debate did …Read More