I still can't figure out what accounts for this outbreak of masculinity in a generally anti-testosterone culture, but this is what is happening. Trump does all the things a dog does to bring the rest of the pack into line: He growls, bites, badgers, acts petulantly, and demands to be petted (an action he will administer to himself if necessary).
So what does this mean for tonight? How do you displace the alpha dog?
The first thing is to do no harm. For Bush, that means his handlers (where have these people been anyway?) need to tell their candidate to stop cocking his head to the side in this sort of awe, shucks way that, I'm sorry, just makes him look like a wimp. This has the same effect as when a submissive member of the pack turns over on his back and lifts up its paw. It means, "Sure, buddy, anything you want." Bush's handers needed to have him practice his debate performance with highly charged electrodes just inches from each side of his head to give him a strong shock when commits submissive behavior.
The strategy for some candidates is going to be to demonstrate some more grit. Unfortunately, wearing jeans, and cowboy hat along with a large belt buckle probably won't do the trick. Bush's only hope is to pad his arms and shoulders and look like he has been working out. But he isn't going to do that. And going toe to toe with Trump is his only option, but he just can't do it very well, and for that reason, Bush is going to lose ground tonight.
Same for Rand Paul. This is where Trump's physique comes in. I'm surprised no one has taken notice of Trump's physical build. I don't know how tall he is, but he is clearly a tall, well-built man. The dude's got to work out or something. Has anyone noticed that the guy is large, well into his sixties, and has no noticeable stomach?
I'm being serious here. Your physique and your posture are things that give you automatic confidence when you speak to people or appear on television. My diminutive and somewhat shy daughter shocked me in high school by winning a debate competition (with no prior experience). The one thing that struck me was her posture. She rode horses, which requires you to sit up perfectly straight. If her excellent posture didn't actually give her confidence (I think it did), it made her look like she did, which had to have helped bring it about.
Trump's very physical presence communicates his dominance.. Did anyone know notice how small Paul looked in the first debate? He looked like he had just arrived in the land of giants. He needs to negotiate for a smaller podium to make himself look bigger. But it won't happen. So he loses too. So does Marco Rubio. He looks too young--too young to take on the top dog.
The only other strategy against Trump is coexistence. Cruz has mastered this. He has followed the Klingon strategy of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. So far, this isn't working too badly for him. Same for Rubio, who is following this same strategy. But Cruz is plagued by these irritating effeminacies. Look at his manner, particularly the way he uses his hands, and compare these with Trump's manner, and you'll see what I mean. As far as Rubio goes, he would be doing better if he didn't look so much like he was still waiting for his permanent teeth to come in.
Then there are the other candidates who, almost to a man (but not a woman, hold on for that thought), are just boring, especially compared to Trump. There is a yawning excitement gap in this campaign, and all the candidates who just roll out policy proposals and tout their very boring technocratic expertise and experience just simply stand no chance in this race, partly because this race is about being authentic and none these things help to establish that.
Huckabee seems to me to be in a unique position. He is well spoken, logical, and is trying to outmaneuver his opponents with evangelicals. I think he is always impressive in these kind of situations. He is the only one, it seems to me, who is able to criticize Trump and get away with it because of his smooth and disarming manner. At the same time, he somehow (I don't know how), doesn't seem to suffer from the 2016 establishment curse, despite the fact that he was a governor.
Ben Carson won't be hurt too badly, but I think people are going to find him less compelling in this debate. He got a big bump in the last debate because he looked real and respectable and he exceeded expectations. But now expectations are higher this time and I think that his lack of specifics (something that doesn't hurt the alpha dog) won't impress anybody. I think he communicates his authenticity well, which is one of his big advantages. He has also captured much of the religious right because he's one of them. He also has a great story. But I think his languid manner is going to start to wear. It will either be a wash for Carson or a slight comedown.
Walker is boring because he's too establishment and just keeps digging himself in by his litany of establishment accomplishments and his lists of policy prescriptions. He loses. Kasich should have the same problems as Walker, but he is trying to go for moderates which no one else is going for, plus he spunk, which doesn't hurt.
Chris Christie does okay, but, unfortunately for him, Trump has out Chris Christied Chris Christie.
Then there is Carly Fiorina, who I think is the candidate who has the ability to gain the most in this debate. Ironically, she may be the toughest personality in the contest. While she's smooth, she still rates high on the authenticity scale, and her manner is more masculine than Cruz. Like Carson, she has a great story (secretary to CEO). And, most importantly, she is the only candidate who can follow the first anti-Trump strategy--to go after him--and gain ground. She did a great job of going after Hillary, and, being a woman, she will exceed expectations if she is able to draw a little blood from the dominant male. She's in an underdog position--because of her sex and her up-until-now low stature in the polls. She'll also have "Aha!" factor: Many will see her for the first time and be impressed.
Fiorina gains the most
Trump maintains his advantage or adds to it; ditto for Huckabee and maybe Kasich
Cruz and maybe Carson and Christie maintain
Rand Paul and Rubio maintain or lose a little
Bush loses, as does Walker