Ten GOP presidential hopefuls will debate at 9 PM tonight in Cleveland.
Trump will stand at the center of the stage thanks to his top position in the polls. He'll be surrounded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
But the format is designed to give the wide array of candidates time to make some sort of impression. Fox News, which is hosting the debate and chose the candidates based on the most recent opinion polling, says it will do its best to divide the time equally between all 10.
Questions will fall into about a dozen policy "buckets," covering both domestic and foreign affairs. After a question is posed, each candidate gets a minute to respond — if they mention one of their opponents, that candidate then will have 30 seconds to respond. The format "enables interaction" on the stage, Fox says.
"What makes it such compelling television is that sense of, at the very least, uncertainty, and at the very most, danger," Chis Wallace, who will moderate the debate alongside Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly, told the New York Times.
Before the debate, Trump, the technical frontrunner, radiated confidence. "My, sort of, my whole life has been a debate," he remarked to Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. "But I have never debated before."
Other candidates struck a more humble tone. Mike Huckabee said that he was going to have to refresh himself on "the numbers, the figures" and that his goal was to "be authentic."
"I'm not going to spend all day Thursday, you know, focused on the materials. I am going to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I'm going to keep my mind free and loose," Huckabee said.
Ted Cruz said he would try to keep the focus on the important differences between Democrats and Republicans. "Every time we run as Democrat Light, we lose," he told Fox.
Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and political novice, also appeared confident. "All [my] notes will be in my head," he told Fox. When asked whether he's nervous, he joked, "Not at all, it's not brain surgery."
Jeb Bush, the field's top fundraiser, goes into the debate after several high-profile gaffes. On Tuesday, he tried to attack Planned Parenthood, but ended up making an unpopular comment about women's health: "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues," he said, in an apparent reference to government programs for low-income women's health services.
Before the frontrunners take the stage at 9PM, candidates who did not make the cut took the stage at what was dubbed the "kids' table" or the "happy-hour" debate at 5PM. Taking part were Texas Governor Rick Perry, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former New York Governor George Pataki, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore.
Heading into the debate, Fiorina tried to put a good spin on things. "We've got a long way to go here, it's a long race and I'll look forward to the happy-hour debate," she told Politico.
She might have felt differently after one of the first questions asked during the debate was whether comparing herself to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a little off the mark given her standing in the polls.