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What Each Candidate Must Do at CNBC GOP Debate

On Wednesday evening, CNBC will host the third GOP debate.

The conditions have changed considerably since the last debate, six weeks ago. Ben Carson has surged to the fore, while Carly Fiorina has secured her place in the top tier. Ted Cruz has put up big fundraising numbers, while Jeb Bush has struggled. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton consolidated her position as the presumptive nominee.

Here is what each of the GOP candidates must do.

Ben Carson: Prepare for incoming fire. Being the leader means drawing tougher questions from the moderators (and more attacks from rivals). Carson should bring a few helpful facts and figures on each issue–a Reagan tactic.

Donald Trump: Question the premise. The media, smelling blood, want to see Trump pitted against Carson. He should resist the moderators by challenging the premises of their set-up questions and without taking their bait.

Jeb Bush: Speak to the camera.  Bush needs to stop defending himself to the moderators and talk directly to the American people. There are enough undecided voters out there for him to be the second choice when others fail.

Carly Fiorina: Attack Hillary Clinton. In past debates, Fiorina has been the only (!) candidate to focus on the Democrats and their frontrunner. She can renew her momentum by doing it again, while the others squabble.

Ted Cruz: Stay solid. Ironically, though he is the best debater on the stage, Cruz depends less on the debates than other candidates because he has the best-developed support base. His time will come; he need not force it now.

Marco Rubio: Smile more often. Rubio’s appeal is that he is a fresh face with an articulate vision for the future. In previous debates, he has barely smiled. He saves his lighter side for YouTube. Time to bring it onto the stage.

Mike Huckabee: Interrupt. Huckabee has failed to make a great impact in previous debates. Carson’s rise means he risks being drowned out on social issues, which are his forté. He needs to jump in to have a say, when possible.

Chris Christie: Attack Barack Obama. Christie needs to put more distance between himself and the president to convince the electorate to forget his past. Targeting Obama also lets him emphasize his own governing record.

Rand Paul: Talk about your record. Paul has been easily sidetracked in past debates. With Benghazi still in the news, he should remind voters he was one of the first to challenge Hillary Clinton, among his other achievements.

John Kasich: Be the liberal foil. The only way Kasich will continue to stay in national headlines is if he plays the role the media assigned him after his upbeat comments on gay marriage in the first debate. He should roll with it.

Undercard debate:

Lindsey Graham: Keep hitting Iraq. We are now at war in Iraq again, with “boots on the ground.” Graham was right about Obama’s early withdrawal, and should continue to make his case as a strong foreign policy candidate.

Bobby Jindal: Target Congress. Jindal has an opportunity to break into the top tier if he can seize upon public frustration with the new budget deal. No other governor still in the race has the will or the credibility to do so.

George Pataki: Law and order. The shocking murder of another NYPD officer, and rising public criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, means that Pataki’s record in New York is relevant to the debate in a new way.

Rick Santorum: Be optimistic. Santorum often seems aggrieved–understandably so, given how he has been treated by the media and the party (see: Iowa caucuses 2012). A sunnier approach may help him break through.

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