2016's first GOP debate: Six things to look for in Charleston

Programming Alert:Tune in to the FOX Business Network's GOP Debate on Thursday, January 14, beginning at 6 P.M. ET

The good people of Charleston, South Carolina, divide themselves into two groups – SOBS (folks living south of Broad Street) and SNOBS (those on the northern side).

Worse things have been said of the current crop of presidential hopefuls, nearly all of whom invade the Holy City the next few days – Thursday’s GOP debate, sponsored by the Fox Business Network; Sunday’s Democratic debate, carried by NBC.

If you’re counting at home, this marks the sixth time the GOP field has gathered on one stage, the second time that the Fox Business Network (FBN) has done the honors and, with only seven candidates in the main event (watch live at 9 pm ET), it could be the first time an evening with the Republicans might not descend into pouting, posturing and crosstalk.

How best to anticipate this debate?

As in real estate: “location, location, location.”

The debate’s venue, the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center, is less than 10 miles from the Emanuel AME church, the scene of last June’s mass shooting. Gun control won’t go undiscussed, what with President Obama bringing it up in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley revisiting the incident in her Republican response.

It’s a short walk from Emanuel AME to the Cooper River and a bustling container-ship and car-carrier operation that’s converted Charleston from a Navy town to a thriving hub of maritime commerce (BMW and Volvo use the seaport to ship autos made elsewhere in the right-to-work state). There’s no better tie-in for a few questions about the global economy.

Those ships dock upriver from Fort Sumter and were the site of a louder anti-Washington protest than anything the Tea Party’s imagined. Will Donald Trump tell America it’s time to party like it’s 1861?

What else to expect from the Republicans?

In the Low Country spirit of sippin’ bourbon and whiskey concoctions, six things:

1.   Rebel Yell. Before we get into what divides the Republican field, here’s what unites it – multiple opportunities to yell President Obama post-State of the Union. Expect strong words on the President’s omission of the situation on Farsi island, his post-San Bernardino emphasis on guns and not domestic terrorism, his invoking the word “Muslim” only in conjunction with hate crimes, plus his insistence that America’s global influence isn’t in decline.

2. Canadian Club. The knock against Ted Cruz is that most folks who’ve worked with him don’t like him. Let’s see if that carries over onto the debate stage should Trump resume the questions about Cruz’s Canadian birth. Will any other candidate intervene, or will they let Cruz and Trump slug it out? Then there’s also the matter of the Goldman Sachs undisclosed million dollar loan… As for Cruz, does he laugh off these lines of attack, or continue to return fire as he’s just begun to do in New Hampshire?

3. Southern Comfort. To the adage about South Carolina’s quirkiness (“too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum,” said the anti-secessionist James L. Petrigu), there’s this reality: it’s the most conservative of the four stops on the February primary circuit. How many of the seven contenders will cater to the local electorate, versus those who play to the more moderate Yankees up in New Hampshire? For the latter, keep an eye on Chris Christie, John Kasich and this guy . . .

4. Johnny Walker. That’s “Johnny”, as in John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, and “Walker” as in Walker’s Point, the family’s summer compound where the family assembles to celebrate wins and lick wounds. Historically, South Carolina has been invaluable to Bush presidential causes – both father and brother used it as a “firewall” in their respective winning candidacies. But that’s not so with Jeb. The Palmetto State doesn’t fit into a strategy that’s finish strong in New Hampshire or bust.

5. Wild Turkey. Not to suggest that Trump is poultry, but as usual he’s the wild card in the two hours he has to bond with the six other Republicans who trail him in national surveys. Do we assume Trump is the aggressor, in attacking Cruz? Or does he go easy on Cruz and go back to his favorite pincushion: the Clintons?

6. Old Fashioned. Not a brand of booze, but a cocktail (bourbon, splash of soda, bitters, sugar, orange wheel, cherry). The “old fashioned” candidate in this debate? It might be the decidedly youthful Marco Rubio, who suddenly seems less the futuristic GenXer and more a traditional Republican (convening a constitutional convention, berating Hillary Clinton for wanting higher taxes and bigger government). The last guy to popularize this cocktail: “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, who knew a thing or two about marketing and salesmanship.

That show lasted eight years on television – the same goal as everyone mixing it up in North Charleston.