Tonight is the first Republican debate, here’s what you need to know

Even though the presidential election is still over a year away, candidates are eager to get their names out there, and get voters familiar with their platforms. To that end, tonight marks the first Republican debate, and with so many candidates vying for our attention, you’re going to need a cheat sheet.

Here’s what you need to know before you sit down to watch tonight’s event.

The debate itself:

The debate airs tonight on FOX News at 9 PM and will be televised live from Cleveland. If you can’t get to a TV, the debate is also live-streaming on and the FoxNews app, but both require a cable subscription.

If all else fails, you can always keep close tabs on the debate through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Periscope.

The debate is scheduled to be two hours long and each candidate is allowed a 60-second window to offer responses to the host’s questions.

Who is debating:

Because there are so many Republican hopefuls, the RNC had to divide the contenders into two groups. Using polls from top polling agencies, the main card (aka those debating tonight at 9) is only open to party favorites. The other seven candidates, the undercard if you will, are scheduled to debate earlier in the evening at 5 PM.

Here are the 10 top-tier debaters who will be gracing your television screen at 9 PM, and little about what they need for tonight’s show:

Donald Trump — The business mogul, real estate magnate, and reality star is the frontrunner for tonight’s debate. His unfiltered rhetoric has struck a chord with Americans and will likely capitalize on the coverage his sensationalism draws.

Jeb Bush — Former Florida governor with a presidential lineage, Bush certainly takes the stage with a lot of baggage. He’s recently made news sparring with Hillary Clinton, and will have to make a name for himself outside of his father and brother’s legacies. People have also been saying Bush is “stumbling,” so it will important for him to be gaffe-free tonight.

Scott Walker – He has good buzz and a positive political history as Governor of Wisconsin, but his poll numbers put him in the middle. Neutral ground is not a great place to be with so many other candidates scrambling for attention.

Marco Rubio – The senator from Florida has good name recognition, but he is going to have to work to not be overshadowed by the other heavy weights on stage.  

Mike Huckabee — He’s a debate veteran, having participated, and done really well, in previous elections. In fact, Huckabee was the perceived winner of the 2008 debate. The former Arkansas governor has enough experience and savvy to handle the chaos once it gets started, and probably won’t get rattled very easily.

Ted Cruz — With recent struggles with reporters and press, his image has taken a bruising. To counteract these exchanges, during the debate the Texas senator must come across as likable, patient, and flexible in order to connect with voters. According to some college chums who saw Cruz debate back in the day, “don’t count him out.”

Ben Carson — A pioneering brain surgeon and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this candidate is low key and will have to really fight to get noticed. His goal is to bring the fire so he can be heard.

Chris Christie — The outspoken New Jersey Governor won’t have any trouble being heard, but he might have trouble relinquishing the floor when his 60-seconds are over. He’s going to have to play nice.

John Kasich — He won the governorship of Ohio by a near landslide and comes from humble beginnings. He is a long running member of Congress, but has a relatively quiet voice when it comes to moving to the forefront. That said, he’s on his home turf.  

Rand Paul — A senator from Kentucky and a physician, Paul has a bit of celeb-status on the Internet. That said, the Jesse Benton indictment has cast a black cloud over his campaign, and he needs the debate to provide some positive momentum.

Be on the lookout for:

First impressions. For many of the candidates, this is first time the public will get to see them in this context. They are going to need to convince voters, in 60-second increments, that they are capable, smart, and will represent them well.

They also need to communicate their stance on the issues, their personalities, and how well they perform under such chaotic circumstances. This is usually why the early debates don’t have as many stunts and fireworks as later events.

The Alpha Dog. Many pundits theorize that Trump will dominate tonight’s debate, but it will be interesting to see who comes out strong and who comes out looking desperate.

Strategies. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he disagrees with someone. Watch body language, posture, and gestures. Sometimes these micro-movements can reveal a lot about a person.

Also, listen for consistency in the way a debater answers an opponent. The pressure is immense to say something smart, direct, and clever. Can your guy stand up to it?

The Issues:

The three main issues concerning the Republican party right now are immigration, foreign policy, and government tactics.

Trump will have to take on immigration after his incendiary comments earlier this year, and it’s probably safe to say that the other candidates are going to come after him pretty hard. But what are they saying about it?

Rand Paul will most likely have to defend his stance on foreign policy against an angry GOP. Recent comments have other Republicans up in arms, and he will surely be called to task tonight.

Everyone is going to have something to add about government tactics, and the two issues getting the most traffic right now are the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the Iran deal. It will be interesting to see how each proponent makes his own stance stand out among the line of 10 competing for camera time.

Tonight’s debate is just the first phase in a long democratic process. It’s important because it will weed out the non-viable candidates and will shape whose name you see on the ballot. Make sure to check it out so you can know your candidates, form your own opinions, and feel informed when the time comes to make some decisions.

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[Image via iStock]