The Outrage Machine is a weekly opinion column by voices from the left and right on Washington. Want to write for us? Contact us at powerpost@washpost.com

When you tune into the Republican presidential debate on Fox this Thursday night, there will be one candidate who has far more to gain or lose than any other candidate. That figure, who will be in the center of the stage, is Donald Trump.

The amazing thing about Trump’s emergence is that it is self-made, without consultants, and virtually all by earned media.

Trump has gotten more news coverage for less money than any campaign I can remember.

Part of his achievement is sheer showmanship. No one since P. T. Barnum has had the savvy for publicity that Trump demonstrates week after week.

Part of his media capability comes from the reality television show “The Apprentice.” From the day it appeared in 2004, the show was a phenomenon. “You’re fired” became a hallmark of “The Donald’s” style, and indeed, part of the common language.

Audiences learned about Trump and Trump learned about audiences.

This depth of experience (more than any candidate since Ronald Reagan) is part of why Trump has been able to dance around tough questions and react instantly to hostile attacks.

Peggy Noonan identified in her recent column a very deep strain of American anger, and, as she put it, “contempt” for the American governing system. There is a large block of voters who are fed up with the failures of government and the failures of leaders to fix the failures.

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From Ferguson and Baltimore, to an embarrassingly dishonest and incompetent Veterans Administration, to a failed effort to deal with ISIS cutting off people’s heads or with increasing numbers of domestic terrorists, to an unsecured border, to absurd cost overruns on projects like the F-35 — the list of examples is endless.

Millions of Americans are deeply afraid that America as they know it is dying. They fear the chaos, the incompetence and the corruption.

Trump articulates the direct, common sense views of these frightened Americans.

Furthermore, Trump to many Americans appears fearless, combative and like a fighter who could take on the whole system and then, having cleaned up Washington, take on our competitors and adversaries around the world.

From press events to hour-long speeches, Trump has grown into a formidable force.

On Thursday night, that formidable force will find itself in a very different environment.

Trump’s answers will have to be the shortest he has ever given.

The questions will be more consistently probing and aggressive than he has faced up to now.

One or more of his competitors on that stage may decide to go right at him. They and their consultants will have been thinking about this debate for at least a month.

Trump will also have to pace his energy. Two hours (90 minutes plus commercials) can wear some candidates down. When tired, they make a mistake — and when called on the mistake, they sometimes make it worse in their exhausted state.

If Trump comes out of Thursday night as someone the American people can imagine in the Oval Office, he will be the big winner. He will clearly consolidate his frontrunner status and we will be on an unimaginably wild ride.

If, on the other hand, one of his opponents succeeds in puncturing the balloon or one of the moderators succeeds in getting under his skin with a question he isn’t ready for, Trump could come out of the debate as the biggest loser (to use one of The Donald’s favorite terms). A deflated Trump would find it very difficult to restart a campaign built on braggadocio and aggressiveness.

Trump has done the Republican Party (and Fox News) the great favor of guaranteeing the largest audience ever to watch a primary debate.

I will be sitting right there watching with fascination and I have no idea which Trump we will see at the end of the evening.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the U.S. House of representatives and a 2012 Republican presidential candidate.