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Republican candidates in the first 2015 Fox debate, a very short guide

Update: Coverage of the second Republican debate on CNN.

We're just 15 short months from Election Day 2016, so naturally the Republican Party is holding its first presidential debate. It's a very crowded primary field, and despite rules designed to winnow the number of people actually allowed on stage for the debate, viewers have 10 candidates to watch. It can be hard to tell one conservative man in a conservative suit from the others, so we've assembled a handy guide to who the heck these guys are.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Identity: The Heir Apparent

Biography: Former governor of Florida. His brother used to be president. His dad also used to be president. His granddad was a senator. His son is land commissioner of Texas. He's number one in endorsements and fundraising, he has more name recognition than the other real candidates in the race, and he has the widest network of party supporters.

Mission: Jeb Bush needs to stand up there and not make a fool of himself. He hasn't actually run for office since 2002, and some people worry that he's a little rusty. But in many ways he's got an easy job. He doesn't need to take anyone down or emerge as a breakout star. He's the default choice, and he just needs to look and sound the part. The problem is that because of that, he'll probably have everyone else gunning for him.

Scott Walker

Scott Walker

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Identity: The Other White Meat

Biography: Current governor of Wisconsin. Very conservative in his policy views, but he's won three statewide elections in a blue-leaning state. On paper, he looks like the perfect balance of right-wing-ness and electability. In practice, he often seems excruciatingly boring.

Mission: Scott Walker needs to make people care about Scott Walker. So far, folks like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson, who don't seem like plausible nominees, have done a much better job of generating excitement among grassroots conservatives who are tired of Bushes. Walker needs to break through and define himself as the realistic alternative to Bush.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Identity: A New Hope

Biography: Senator from Florida and former leader of the Florida state legislature. Played a key role in crafting a bipartisan immigration compromise that died in the US House of Representatives and became anathema on the right. Has a tax plan that promises a little of something for everyone.

Mission: Rubio is the candidate who gives Democratic Party strategists nightmares, which is the biggest thing he has going for him. More than anyone else, he really needs to dazzle the audience and make those electability issues feel real to Republicans. Failing that, any Jeb Bush gaffes or stumbles are great for Rubio, who is well-positioned to pick up much of Bush's support if his campaign implodes. Rubio's campaign is also in part an audition to be Walker's VP choice.

Rand Paul

Rand Paul Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Identity: The Freedom Fighter

Biography: Senator from Kentucky. More to the point, he's the heir to his father's cult-like following among libertarian nationalists.

Mission: Rand Paul needs to redefine his brand, which he's watered down this year in an effort to render himself more acceptable to party elites by moving right on defense spending and Iran. That hasn't worked, and he's not going to win the nomination. But before that happened, he was more successful as a factional leader than his father ever was, and if he can reboot and recapture that identity he stands an excellent chance of being an influential figure in national politics.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Identity: The Donald

Biography: Real estate guy turned reality television host turned quasi-politician.

Mission: Donald Trump has been remarkably successful so far this summer at making himself the center of attention at all times, and his goal is to keep that up. To do that, he needs to keep walking a line between saying things that are outrageous enough to provoke backlash, but not so outrageous as to alienate the third or so of Republicans who seem to like him.

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Identity: Huckster

Biography: Former governor of Arkansas. Once seemed to be blazing an interesting ideological trail that mixed hardcore social conservatism with gestures of moderation on economics. Now seems to be mostly using his email list to sell people on bogus products.

Mission: Huckabee is in grave danger of losing relevance, as his career as a television personality and snake oil salesman is based on the fumes of his 2008 presidential bid and he needs to refill the tank. Over-the-top condemnations of same-sex marriage could be a good strategy for him, since the real contenders aren't going to want to "go there" now that marriage equality polls above 50 percent but his fans among the older evangelical set will like it.

Ben Carson

Ben Carson Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Identity: The Great Black Hope

Biography: A neurosurgeon, author, and former hero to many African Americans, Carson is enjoying a new career as a speaker who tells white conservatives what they want to hear about Barack Obama and race in America.

Mission: Carson is here to sell books and increase his speaking fees, so more than for any other candidate his goal is to get off some good zingers at the expense of Obama and the Democrats. While other candidates are fighting with one another, Carson's goal is to stay generally well-liked by conservatives and come across as a skilled speaker.

John Kasich

John Kasich Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Identity: Who?

Biography: A Gingrich-era conservative House member turned not-so-successful Fox News host who is now serving as governor of Ohio, Kasich has emerged as the (relative) moderate in the field due to his support of Medicaid expansion.

Mission: It's very difficult to see where Kasich goes from here. A VP nomination? Seats on bipartisan blue ribbon commissions? Either way, his task is to convince people who aren't the kind of hardcore Republicans who'll decide the nomination that he's a thoughtful guy who offers a serious take on the nation's problems.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Identity: The Radical

Biography: A Cuban-American right-winger from Texas who beat the state GOP establishment as an underdog in a primary, took a Senate seat, and has been causing trouble for the congressional leadership ever since. Cruz is essentially a factional leader, standing for the strain of thought that believes in maximum confrontation with Obama as the path forward for the right.

Mission: Cruz needs to try to regain the spotlight from Trump so he can continue to build his status as a talk radio hero and email list juggernaut. He's in the race more to enhance his profile and spread his message than to win, but for any of that to work, people need to pay attention to him.

Chris Christie

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Identity: The Has-Been

Biography: A Bush-era federal prosecutor turned New Jersey governor, known for his dramatic confrontations with public sector workers plus a practical taste for cutting deals with the machine-ridden Democratic caucus in the New Jersey legislature. Having taken office a year before the 2010 bumper crop of GOP governors, he was an early breakout star but he's faded badly since, as "Bridgegate" and New Jersey's weak economy have eroded his popularity.

Mission: Like Rubio, Chris Christie would really benefit from a spectacular Jeb Bush collapse. Christie's theoretical financial base is rich Wall Street fat cats who live in New Jersey, but Wall Street fat cats love Jeb Bush. If Bush were to vanish, Christie could begin to make the case that he's the only one in the field who truly appreciates the financial sector's need for light regulation and hefty bailouts and start rebuilding his standing.

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