As critics are all too eager to point out, the Fox News GOP presidential debates on Thursday likely will include plenty of sound bites, flip answers and personal attacks as the 17 candidates seek to stand out from one another.
But the debates also may lead to positive results if the Republican candidates provide substantial discussions of issues that matter to Americans.
Some smart people who have invested a lot of time at the state or national levels in government service to millions of Americans will be talking Thursday.
Some have balanced state budgets — and dealt with huge financial crises. Some have fought unions — and often been re-elected. All have faced questions over everything from their personal finances to their knowledge of foreign affairs — and should be better prepared than ever to answer those questions.
American voters deserve to get some clear-eyed views on crucial issues such as income disparity, immigration, the value of social programs and military options in the Middle East.
Americans will be watching to see whether poll leader Donald Trump has more to offer than the blustery views he spews on the campaign trail. It will be instructive to see whether Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others can distinguish themselves during their precious time in the two-hour primetime event.
As for the candidates lower in the polls, viewers will have a chance to decide whether Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and a few others ought to get more attention.
The Fox debates come at an early but potentially crucial time. Take them for what they are: a small step in the long march toward the November 2016 elections.