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How to watch the Fox debate

I’ve never seen a debate quite like the scrum coming up Thursday evening on Fox News, but I’ve moderated and covered enough candidate forums to have an idea what to look for.
1. Who answers the question?
Candidates typically want to stay ‘on message’ and have pat answers to topics, regardless of the question being asked.
Is the candidate listening? Is he thinking on his feet? Or is he trying to just not mess up?

Fox_News_Channel_logo2. Who has the facts?
Opinions and ideas are one thing, but they needed to be supported by some kind of evidence. And it needs to stand up to the fact-checkers.

3. Who looks comfortable?
By this time, these candidates should all be relaxed in front of cameras. Sometimes, though, politicians unaccustomed to speaking in front of anything but a friendly crowd start to sweat.

4. Does he have a sense of humor?
This is dangerous water for candidates to tread, because nothing is worse than a joke that falls flat. But it does show they have their wits about them, if they can respond in the moment.

5. Can they separate themselves from the rest?
Too often, candidates of one party — especially on a national stage — sound so similar they fail to distinguish themselves. All will be trying — will any succeed?

6. Are they trying to win, or just trying not to lose?
This roundup comes so early in the process, no one can be declared a winner afterward. But someone certainly could be a loser. The better strategy probably is to survive to debate another day.

However, what we’re trying to do here is assess the leadership qualities of people who want to be our leader. And, on a good day, the leader of the free world.

I want to see if they have the right stuff. I want to hear if they sound presidential. I want to know, in a roomful of experienced rivals, if they can take charge.

As much as anything, I want to find out if they can think for themselves — or are they spouting the lines given them by their campaign advisers and parroting the opinions most popular in the polls.

Debates like this are derided as ‘reality TV,’ the scripted creation that has almost nothing to do with reality. I’ll be trying to see through the melodrama and get a glimpse of a potential president.

What the heck. Maybe Fox will use my poll to decide who gets to appear.

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