Here's what's changed since the last GOP debate

Donald Trump has remained the front-runner. But he now has a new potential main foil, and some of his fellow big-name rivals have slipped.

The second Republican presidential debate is set for Wednesday night in Simi Valley, California, where 11 candidates will square off on the main stage.

Not much has changed with the candidates who made it to the main event — the only addition to the top tier is former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, meaning the latest GOP debate will have 11 candidates instead of last month’s 10.

But the positions for those candidates, in some cases, have shifted dramatically. Some candidates enter into Wednesday night with all the momentum — and some could drastically use a good performance to give their campaigns a kick.

Here’s a look at what’s changed over the past month-plus.

The polling

According to Real Clear Politics’ average of six recent national polls, here’s a look at where the candidates stand going into Wednesday night. From the top tier:

  • Donald Trump, real-estate magnate: 29.8% average as of Wednesday (up from a 24.3% average before the August 6 debate)
  • Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon: 17.8% (up from 5.8%)
  • Jeb Bush, former Florida governor: 7.8% (down from 12.5%)
  • Ted Cruz, US senator from Texas: 6.7% (up from 5.5%)
  • Marco Rubio, US senator from Florida: 5.8% (up from 5.3%)
  • Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor: 4.3% (down from 6.8%)
  • Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO: 4.3% (up from 1.3%)
  • Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor: 3.8% (down from 9.5%)
  • John Kasich, Ohio governor: 3.5% (up from 2.8%)
  • Rand Paul, US senator from Kentucky: 2.7% (down from 4.5%)
  • Chris Christie, New Jersey governor: 2.0% (down from 3.5%)

Trump soars

A prominent feud with Fox News host and debate moderator Megyn Kelly did nothing to slow down Trump’s magnanimous rise, and he has only solidified his lead over the past month.

“Seemingly nothing can bring him down,” said Greg Valliere, the chief political strategist at the Potomac Research Group. “It’s way too early to consider him the favourite to win the nomination — polls show 60% of all Americans don’t trust him and 60% don’t think he’s qualified to be president. But Trump is in for the long-haul, and has inflicted enormous damage on all the other GOP candidates.”

Carson rises

Carson is now nipping at Trump’s heels — but perhaps a bigger story is, together, what they exemplify.

A new poll out Tuesday showed Trump and Carson — two political outsiders — combining for half the GOP primary vote at this point in the race. A theme of the campaign thus far on the GOP side has been the rise of the outsiders — Trump, Carson, and Carly Fiorina — as the party base signals it’s ready to move on from more establishment favourites.

“There’s no question that the attention that Donald Trump has brought to himself and the campaign has worked in our favour,” Doug Watts, the communications director of Carson’s campaign, told Business Insider recently.

“Why does it work in our favour and not everybody else’s favour? … I think the answer’s pretty clear: That not since 1992 has America — Republicans, Democrats, Independents — been so keen on not electing, reelecting, traditional lifetime politicians. They’re just sick and tired of it. The ol’ Einstein quote, which wasn’t actually from Einstein: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.'”

Two early favourites falter

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker were two early popular favourites to win the Republican nomination. But they have seen the biggest declines over the last month.

Walker’s plunge has been particularly notable, and he has fallen dramatically in the first-caucus state of Iowa, which is central to his path to the nomination. Bush, meanwhile, is still in decent poll shape — but he has struggled to show signs he’s the front-runner many clearly thought he would be.

A new ‘face’

Carly Fiorina is the sole new addition to the main-stage debate. She has soared 3 percentage points over the last month-plus, and even more in key early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Fiorina will look to prove that she belongs — and you can expect a tangle or two with Trump.

“Well, I think Mr. Trump’s going to be hearing quite a lot from me,” she told CNBC.

Trump caused controversy last week when he mocked Fiorina’s appearance in comments that were published as part of a magazine interview.

“Look at that face! … Would anyone vote for that?” Trump was quoted asking while watching Fiorina on the news.”

Trump and Fiorina do share one feature: They’re both political outsiders, of which Republican voters seemingly can’t get enough this campaign.

The issues

In August, a key point of policy debate was the Iran nuclear deal. President Barack Obama has clinched enough support for that deal to go through and be implemented — meaning it won’t disappear from the conversation Wednesday night, but could fade and will change in scope.

The looming policy debate of the month that will come up in Wednesday’s debate will be over keeping the government funded — and preventing it from shutting down.

Conservative members of Congress want to completely de-fund the women’s health and family planning organisation Planned Parenthood in the budget, after the organisation has come under intense scrutiny after the release of undercover videos that show a Planned Parenthood executive discussing using aborted fetuses for research.

Democrats and the White House have defended Planned Parenthood. And if Republicans make good on their threat to withhold funding for the organisation as part of the budget negotiations, it would almost certainly lead to a shutdown. Republican leaders, most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), have pledged to avoid a shutdown.

But the issue has become something of a litmus test for Republicans. And it should be interesting to see which presidential candidates advocate for going through with de-funding and which want to avoid a shutdown at all costs.

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