The opening round of the CNN/Salem Media Group debates starts at 6 pm ET with the exciting matchup of Governor Bobby Jindal, and … who? The other “undercards,” as CNN calls the lucky participants in the opening act tonight, are campaign giants Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki. A poor performance here could doom them, CNN advises:

A lackluster performance Wednesday could doom these underfunded and lesser-known candidates.

“The JV debate is likely the last,” said Katie Packer Gage, deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. Packer Gage is neutral in the race, but she is founding partner of WWP Strategies, which works for GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio in Michigan.

“There will be so little attention to those folks that the networks won’t continue it,” she said. “So this is the last chance for the lesser known candidates to make a move.”

Perhaps. Carly Fiorina managed to move up with a stellar undercard performance in the first debates, although her polling numbers are rising more steadily than spectacularly. Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul may be looking over their shoulder if anyone in this panel has a similar breakout performance. With the outsiders in the main event peaking, though, it will take an extremely remarkable performance to get any headlines out of the first debate.

Of the four participants, Bobby Jindal may have the best odds of grabbing attention tonight. He’s been attacking Trump for the last couple of weeks in hope of knocking him down a few points, but thus far it hasn’t had any impact on either’s numbers. That won’t keep him from escalating the attacks to force Trump to respond, though. Jindal wrote a CNN op-ed yesterday that called Trump “a madman who must be stopped,” and scolds conservatives for not calling him out:

Sane conservatives need to stop enabling him. They need to stop praising him, stop being afraid of him and stop treating him rationally.

Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Rick Perry admirably called Trump out for his conservative heresy, but it backfired because he doesn’t give a hoot about conservatism. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is clinging to Trump like a limpet to an oil tanker, hoping to suck up his votes when Trump eventually sinks.

Conservatives need to say what we are thinking: Donald Trump is a madman who must be stopped. Failure to speak out against Trump is an endorsement of Clinton.

Perhaps, but that’s similar to the fallacy adopted by Trump supporters that any criticism is a de facto endorsement of Jeb Bush. There are other candidates in the race besides Trump, Bush, and Clinton — and it might be nice if the media started acting like it. The MRC did an analysis of coverage, and found that Trump gets three-quarters of the GOP primary attention from broadcasters:

A Media Research Center study finds that, over a two week period, coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign took up nearly 78 percent of all CNN’s prime time GOP campaign coverage – 580 minutes out of a total of 747 minutes. All 16 non-Trump candidates got a combined total of just 167 minutes, much of which was spent comparing them to Trump. More than half of the remaining candidate coverage went to Jeb Bush with almost 12 percent (88 minutes). Twelve of the 17 candidates didn’t even break one percent of the coverage (although Rick Perry has since dropped out of the race, he was still a candidate during the time period analyzed).  …

This CNN coverage mirrored the campaign coverage on the broadcast networks. During the same time frame, the evening news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC spent almost 75 percent of the total campaign coverage on Trump, with nearly 15 percent for Bush and just under 5 percent for Carson. Since he announced his candidacy on June 16, Trump has dominated the network coverage. Through August 31, Trump alone had received 233 minutes of coverage on the three broadcast evening newscasts, or 48 percent of the GOP candidate total so far this year.

He’ll get most of the coverage tonight, too, unless another candidate breaks through or flames out. Keep an eye on how much the other “undercards” go after Trump tonight too, or whether they aim their rhetorical guns more at Obama and Clinton.

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