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Pundits Say Trump Highlights GOP Debate, But Keep An Eye On Kasich

WOSU composite

While the Republican Party was putting the final touches on Quicken Loans Arena for Thursday night’s two debates, some political heavy hitters were in another part of Cleveland, laying out some expectations for the main event.

The Washington Post billed the three moderated panels as “2016 Pregame”, and it was an all-star line-up of pundits, strategists and political experts. And though there were plenty of well-known names who were invited to share their thoughts, one name who wasn’t there dominated the event: Donald Trump.

“I think Trump is the person to study more than the person to beat.” 

“A lot of folks I think a lot of energy trying to figure out when he’s going to get out of the race.” 

“Donald Trump is basically aligned with the majority of the Republican field right now. I think he has a fairly amazing way of presenting himself.” 

“I think, actually, that Donald Trump was inevitable in a weird way...the idea [of Trump], because he’s not a person.”

In reverse order, those comments came from conservative syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker interrupted by NBC’s Chuck Todd, Democratic strategist Aaron Pickerell, former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele and GOP strategist and pollster Kellyanne Conway.

But the three panels, discussing Trump, health care, and the media’s role in the 2016 race, also had things to say about other candidates, including the last entrant in the race to make it to the main debate stage – Gov. John Kasich.

Michael Steele said Kasich needs to stay in his own lane and out of Trump’s way.

“If you are John Kasich, it’s not in your benefit to come out on that stage and directly take on Donald Trump because you have your own message – your state, your leadership, what you’ve done in Congress,” Steele said. 

And Aaron Pickerell, who ran President Obama’s successful campaigns in Ohio, said he thinks Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will be a good candidate in many of the battleground states, but also, “I think that Gov. Kasich could be a formidable candidate in those states as well. I think the battleground states that are out there – the majority of them are in the Midwest and I think Midwesterners, they can relate to other Midwesterners and they can see that ‘I think this person understands where I come from, I relate to the issues that they care about, they talk the same language I do, therefore I trust that person with my vote.’”

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Connie Schultz – who lives in Cleveland and is also the wife of Ohio’s Democratic US Senator Sherrod Brown – said her fans on Facebook have been telling her two important things about this contest.

“And I think for a lot of Ohioans, Trump is really at best entertaining. He’s insulting for a lot of people. This field is wide open here in Ohio.”

But she added “But I don’t think the Democrats can take Ohio for granted for a second.”

And Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said she thinks Kasich and the other candidate in the main debate already have to be thinking ahead to the post-debate discussions.

“So I think the goal for them is, you made it into the top 10, but make sure you make it into the top five or four who are talked about and have shelf life after the next couple of days,” Conway said.

But Chuck Todd told the crowd that he feels – at least for TV – there’s no doubt the main story will be what was said by Donald Trump.