First GOP Debate: How Republican Presidential Candidates Are Cramming for the Big Showdown

PHOTO: Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson preps for his first presidential debate with help from some of his campaign staff and a faux podium on August 4, 2015.PlayBen Carson Presidential Campaign
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The stage is set for Thursday’s GOP debate. The top 10 candidates will face off against each other at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans arena, where the Ohio GOP says tickets are harder to come by than the NBA finals.

The other seven second tier candidates will appear at a 5 p.m. forum. Whether the contenders are in prime-time or far from it, they are preparing for the spotlight. Well, that is everyone besides Donald Trump, who plans to wing it, according to an adviser. Here’s a look at the cram sessions.


DONALD TRUMP: While most candidates spend weeks preparing for debates, Trump apparently has not. “Trump doesn’t rehearse,” a senior Trump adviser tells ABC News's Jon Karl. Trump’s team has provided him with memos on issues and expected lines of attacks, but there has been no formal debate prep. However, If Trump’s pre-debate conversations are any indication, don’t expect any controversial comments that we have seen so far on the campaign. The current GOP frontrunner said on “Good Morning America” today that he would “rather just discuss the issues” than engage in personal attacks. "If I’m attacked I have to, you know, do something back, but I’d like it to be very civil,” he said. He also tamped down expectations in Turnberry, Scotland last week, telling ABC News, “as far as preparing for debates, I am who I am...I never debated before. I’m not a debater.”

JEB BUSH: Bush, who has often described himself as a policy wonk, is also looking to stick to the issues. An adviser tells ABC News Bush has been “doing his homework,” reading press books and watching videos. He wants a “good solid debate,” the adviser says. His schedule the day of his debate, according to his campaign, will include a mass with his wife Columba, the gym, and “vigorous emailing.”

SCOTT WALKER: Scott Walker is relaxing. As he told Fox’s Megyn Kelly, he is home in Wisconsin with his wife and sons until Thursday, when he goes to the kickoff of the Wisconsin State Fair before boarding a flight to Cleveland. The New York Times has reported, however, that Walker is among the candidates with the most elaborate preparations for the debate. Over the past month, according to the Times, he has had advisers stand at podiums role-playing his opponents, and is preparing responses to possible attacks against him about abortion and illegal immigration.

JOHN KASICH: The Ohio governor, who was one of the final candidates to announce his run for presidency, was on the cusp of cracking the top 10 for the debate. Although his team has been tight-lipped about how he is preparing, his senior adviser John Weaver posted a controversial tweet:

Kasich later told FOX News’ Chris Wallace, “that’s not the way we operate” and promising Weaver won’t be sending anymore of those tweets.

BEN CARSON: Carson is at home in West Palm Beach, Florida, before he heads to Cleveland. His spokesman says that ahead of Thursday, his wife may make his “favorite meal” -- his favorite foods are pizza and vegetarian chili. His campaign also says he is studying to focus “on the issues he thinks will be covered and clarifying his responses for the podium.” In photos, he is seen standing in front of a faux podium with advisers standing by him, sharing a laugh.

TED CRUZ: A star debater at Princeton University with an award in his name, and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Cruz is no stranger to arguing his points. But he’s still preparing. According to the Washington Post, Cruz has spent two days in a Capitol Hill townhouse, preparing his message -- and how to maintain it -- with a group of friends and advisers. Cruz arrived in Cleveland Wednesday with two staffers, his wife, and his two daughters, swinging from both his arms as he walked through the terminal. He told ABC News his two days cooped up in his Capitol Hill townhouse preparing for tomorrow night did not include studying episodes of "The Apprentice" for insights on his friend The Donald. Instead, Cruz said he spent many hours with a trusted circle of friends and staff discussing strategy, what messages to convey and how to break through, as well as participating in mock debates.

RAND PAUL: Paul has posted a video promoting the debate on his Twitter account, providing inklings of topics he might be discussing, including Planned Parenthood, foreign aid, the tax code, and privacy:

According to Politico, Paul has practiced with Stephen Moore, a prominent conservative figure who has played the role of Donald Trump. The Kentucky Senator is in Ohio today, but will have no public events until the actual debate.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Christie, like Kasich, was also on the cusp of cracking the top 10 and made it to the ninth spot. When asked how he was preparing earlier this month, Christie said he and his team are trying to “make sure I know exactly what I want to communicate and how I want to communicate it.” However, Christie, who is accustomed to Gubernatorial debates, said this type of prep was different than what he is used to. “Usually you kind of do mock debates - at least from our perspective. You can't do a mock debate here with ten folks trying to figure out who's going to say what,” he said at an Iowa event.

MARCO RUBIO: Rubio is planning on sticking to a message of generational change, says his spokesman. “This election is about what America wants to be in the 21st century. We need new leadership and Marco Rubio better than anybody else on that stage understands the challenges we face today,” Alex Conant told ABC News. Conant noted that Rubio will try and stay positive, but is ready to throw punches if necessary. And he will have major supporters watching him in the stands: his wife and one of his four daughters will be in Cleveland with him.

MIKE HUCKABEE: Mike Huckabee’s spokeswoman Alice Stewart tweeted a photo of Huckabee preparing for the debate. Huckabee also appeared in a Facebook pre-debate video, with a question to his fellow candidates: whether they believe “the ruling on same sex marriage is the law of the land.”


RICK PERRY: The former Texas governor famously remembered for his “oops” moment during a 2011 debate when he failed to remember the name of a third agency he would eliminate as President will not be on the main stage Thursday, edged out by John Kasich. But parts of his debate preparation were evident during an interview with Fox Business, where he touted the fact that was governor of the 12th largest economy for 14 years. “My economic record? Put it up against anyone else on the stage,” he said during the interview. He also shot a Facebook video asking his rivals how they would make the nation’s economy as successful as Texas.

CARLY FIORINA: Fiorina posted a pre-debate Facebook video challenging her GOP opponents to consider their methods of attacking Hillary Clinton. “In February of this year I challenged Mrs. Clinton to name an accomplishment. She hasn’t been able to name one yet. How would each of you challenge Mrs. Clinton?” she asks. Wednesday an aide told ABC News the former Hewlett-Packard chief has been playing solitaire on her phone to help stay calm.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Graham tweeted he would be in attendance for the #HappyHourDebate:

Joking around he told Laura Ingraham on her radio show: "You start knocking them back at 5pm by 9 o'clock these other guys will make more sense.” Graham also joined in on the pre-debate Facebook video, challenging his opponents to think about the ways they would “degrade and destroy ISIL without American ground forces.”

RICK SANTORUM: After participating in the Candidate’s Forum, Rick Santorum will head to the American Conservative Union’s “Buckeye Boot Camp” in Cleveland Ohio. A watch party is planned at that location as well, and Perry and Fiorina are expected to make appearances there as well.

BOBBY JINDAL: The Louisiana Governor is still trying to get some attention ahead of the mini face-off Thursday. He’s not giving away any preparation secrets, but in a Buzzfeed video published this week, Jindal went elbow to elbow with his biggest rivals -– taxes, Obamacare, hyphenated Americans and the fiercest pushup challenger –- Jindal’s 2009 State of the Union response speech. Jindal managed to defeat taxes, Obamacare and hyphenated Americans, but in a down to the wire contest, SOTU managed to squeeze out a victory. It doesn’t specifically reference the debate, but it’s clear he wants to try and get some exposure even if he didn’t make it to prime-time.

GEORGE PATAKI: The former New York governor also didn’t make the primetime cut, but at Sirius XM’s Presidential Forum this afternoon in Cleveland he said even the forum’s exposure helps: “I just think it's going to be a tremendous chance to let people know my vision and compare it to others. New York is different particularly for a Republican state. It's overwhelmingly a blue state. I think I have a different background, a different experience and I'm looking forward to talking about that tomorrow,” Pataki said. He didn’t reveal his prepping secrets, but did say he believes Trump’s success is more about “what is name ID vs. who is qualified to run the country.”

ABC News' Devin Dwyer, Candace Smith, Katherine Faulders and Ines de la Cuetara contributed reporting.