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Next Week In Politics: Previewing The Republican Debate

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We start the program today focusing on American politics. We do that because we will have the first Republican presidential debate since the mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino. The GOP candidates meet in Las Vegas on Tuesday night. And as you've probably seen, those attacks have shifted the focus of candidates from both major political parties to questions about ISIS, immigration and to national security. And they've also put a new focus on the rhetoric around these issues. Since this is a moment when the news media being challenged to find the right language to cover these issues fairly, in few minutes, we're going to speak to a panel of prominent editors to hear their thoughts about this. But first, we hear from NPR senior politics editor Ron Elving about the week ahead in politics. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So the big news of the week was Donald Trump's statement that he wants to ban Muslims from coming into the U.S. at least temporarily. How has his own party reacted to this, and how has this affected the dynamics of the presidential campaign?

ELVING: It's really been a climate change moment for this contest. It really has. It's changed everybody's attitudes towards what they have to talk about. And Trump's temporary ban on Muslims has not been supported by any of the other Republican candidates for president. But when you look at the Republican electorate - their voters - they're split right down the middle on this. The latest poll from NBC Wall Street Journal just came out a few days ago. And it shows a plurality of Republicans - 42 percent of them - actually support the idea that Donald Trump has put out about banning Muslims temporarily. Only 36 percent opposed. So Trump clearly has an audience that he's speaking to, and they're people who vote in Republican primaries.

MARTIN: The other big story of the week, though, Ron, is that Texas Senator Ted Cruz is now leading in Iowa. What's behind that?

ELVING: You know, we've been through a Trump surge, then there was a Ben Carson surge, and then another Trump surge. And now we have the Ted Cruz surge, especially in Iowa, where a highly respected Iowa pollster now has him 10 points ahead of Donald Trump. Ted Cruz has picked up the backing of key figures there among conservatives and especially conservative evangelicals. And he's really becoming the figure on the right of choice in that state, and Iowa votes just seven weeks from tomorrow.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, the next Republican debate is on Tuesday. Tell us a little bit about, you know, who's on the main stage, who's on the undercard and whether these recent events are changing the dynamics of what we're going to see on Tuesday.

ELVING: I believe they will change the dynamics. We just got the lineup this afternoon, and Rand Paul will be in the main stage debating. But, you know, Rand Paul may seem to be a bit on the fringes of this debate, even though he's present because he is not seen as a national security candidate. And the sharp focus is now on the national security issues. That change has kind of derailed Ben Carson. He's dropped dramatically in national polls. He's dropped dramatically in Iowa. And it's concentrated attention on Trump and Ted Cruz and, to some degree, on Marco Rubio. The candidates are likely to look a little bit marginalized on Tuesday night.

MARTIN: So we have another significant deadline on Wednesday pertaining to the government shutdown. Why don't you tell us the importance of that day and what needs to happen?

ELVING: Once more to the brink with another government shutdown threat, Michel. It was supposed to happen last week. They passed a stopgap. Now the deadline is next Wednesday. Everybody wants to get their issue into one of these must-pass bills. So if their issue is bank regulations or environmental rules, everybody wants to threaten or at least talk about a shutdown to win concessions on these issues.

MARTIN: Ron Elving is NPR's senior politics editor. Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.