Opinion: Instead of Econ Fixes, Tonight's Debate Will Show GOP Infighting

Tonight's GOP debate, sadly, will be more defined by what we won't see than what we will - an apt parallel to the "Party of No" approach to governing in America.

What won't we see in tonight's GOP debate?

We won't see Governor Christie come out swinging. We won't have Governor-Drop-Out Palin dropping in. Despite all the longing and pleading for someone - anyone - new, it's looking like the GOP will be choosing a candidate from among the men and woman on tonight's stage.

We won't see the candidates following Reagan's oft-quoted commandment not to speak ill of other Republicans. The playing field is too confusing and there are still too many people trying to become the third-way in the Perry-Romney face-off. It once seemed it would be Michele Bachmann whose early debate non-failure and Ames Straw Poll gave her an early boost.

It now seems it could be the improbable Herman Cain whose Florida straw poll victory has helped his polling surge. It has never seemed as though it would be Ron Paul, despite his close second in Iowa and first place showing at the Values Voters summit. So the in-fighting must continue.

We won't see much love for Occupy Wall Street, which has seized the public imagination but earned nothing but scorn from Republicans.

Except for the shockingly consistent Ron Paul, who may note that a leaderless, localized movement built upon economic frustration sounds a lot like a certain group that rhymes with Pea Tarty, we have to imagine everyone else will dismiss the surge of populism as illegal and dangerous.

And despite tonight's debate being billed as a focus on the economy, we won't see any real plan for creating jobs. We won't see any support for the American Jobs Act, but we also won't see any realistic alternatives. We won't hear about investment in our country. We won't be offered a plan to cure economic injustices. We won't get beyond bromides about "job creators." These candidates are better at running against than running on.

So what will we see?

A primary that's far from over. This was supposed to be Romney's to win -- and maybe still will be. After the debate, Christie is following the course of Staten Island Representative Grimm and endorsing Romney. The "moderate" side of the party seems to be lining up.

Then again, it might be Perry's, as reasonably predicted by fellow It's A Free Country blogger Karol Markowicz. He has the money and the southern cred.

But for now, it's nobody's. Perry has been booed over HPV vaccines and immigration. Conservatives have viewed Romney's old views with some suspicions, and bigots have viewed his religion with even more.

The rapidly fluctuating polls that now give Cain unlikely entrance to the top half of the group say more about a party dissatisfied with their choices than anything about Cain's 9-9-9 plan.

So everyone - even Gingrich (he's still in it?) and Santorum (who?) - has something at stake tonight. They can go after either of the two big guys. They can go after each other. They can grasp at some outside-the-box idea to make them stand out. At this point, they aren't running to win, simply running to show.

And as they do, they should contend with the fact that Occupy Wall Street is polling higher than any of them, their party and the work of the House of Representatives. They'll bash it tonight - but that won't help any of them speak more clearly to the economic fears and insecurities in America today. And the sooner one of them comes up with a real plan beyond "leave it to the job creators," they'll be doing more than running to win, place or show…they'll actually be running to lead.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."