I have a lot of sympathy for every candidate on stage for tonight’s seventh Republican primary debate. It’s challenging and unnerving to face millions of Americans for what should be intense intellectual combat. Most candidates stick to their talking points and pivot away from the actual question, often with little follow-up from the moderator. But the debate should be tough: these are people who want to be the leader of the free world.
So here’s my wish list—all questions of character or policy that have evaded scrutiny at previous debates, or issues that have emerged since the last round. Nothing is more fun than nailing the inherent hypocrisy of politics—so here are the questions I’d have a good time with if I were a moderator.
Let’s start with Ted Cruz, the frontrunner since Donald is busy exploiting veterans. To date, I give Cruz’s performances an A++ for pandering. He brings it to a new level, and that’s an achievement in a crowded field. Tonight I’d like to see the moderators press Cruz on the contradictions of his previous and current positions.
- Senator Cruz, you recently voted against your friend Senator Mike Lee’s sentencing reform bill, calling it too lenient—but the bill you originally co-sponsored put in place even shorter sentences than what you would vote against. What changed over the last eight months to cause you to abandon your position?
- Senator Cruz, you have been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump’s use of eminent domain in the private sector, saying, “Donald Trump has said he thinks eminent domain is fantastic, and he supports using government power to seize private people’s homes.” You argue that “private property is essential to the rights of Americans.” So why did you vote in favor of eminent domain for the private gain of a foreign-owned business entity as relates to Keystone Pipeline?
- Senator Cruz, in your recent memoir, you detail your belief in the death penalty. Yet you have said, “We should shrink the size and power of the federal government by every and any means possible.” If you are for limited government, how can you trust the government to properly wield the power of life and death?
Next, Ben Carson. I’d prefer to ignore him instead of wasting minutes on his rambling answers that illuminate nothing. But I’d ask him a policy question to get him to say some more weird stuff….
- Dr. Carson, in your 2012 book America the Beautiful, you suggested “that we place a stiff tariff on products that are manufactured in other countries and are shipped here fully assembled.” Today you support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which removes tariffs on about 18,000 products. When did you change from a protectionist to a free trade advocate?
Particularly in the absence of the Donald, Chris Christie will be one of the most interesting characters to watch. As the most natural politician onstage, Christie has had the most success with his impromptu, unscripted lines, like when told Carly and the Donald to stop reciting their resumes. With his candor, though, comes a margin for serious blunders.
- Attacking the media polls well with Republican primary voters, and most, if not all, candidates on this stage have incorporated media criticism into their campaign rhetoric. Governor Christie, you have said, “When reporters act like jerks, you need to treat them that way.” Do you endorse Donald Trump’s decision to not participate in tonight’s debate?
- Governor Christie, you have been an outspoken critic of Senator Rubio’s voting record, or lack thereof, in Congress, saying, “Show up and vote.” But you spent 72% of 2015 outside of New Jersey. Is it hypocritical for you not to resign?
- Follow-up for Christie: Most recently you campaigned in New Hampshire while your state struggled with the aftermath of a storm that you denied had flooded Southern New Jersey. Why haven’t you apologized for your comment volunteering to go down there with a mop?
I have some sympathy for Jeb Bush as a policy wonk trapped onstage among carnival barkers, but it’s been frustrating to watch his impotent attacks on Marco and Donald Trump. Bring a sharpened knife if you are going to wield it. I’d like to press him on education policy and his campaign strategy of focusing on Marco Rubio.
- Governor Bush, in a 2012 study comparing American education achievement to the rest of the world, the OECD also had enough data to examine Florida. Your state ranked below the world average. How did your education reforms help Florida’s students if the data-driven indicators give no empirical evidence of improvement?
- Governor Bush, do you regret that your Super PAC—with its war chest of over $100 million—has invested most of its firepower to attacking Marco Rubio, a candidate who basically shares your same stance on immigration, instead of Donald Trump?
Ohio Governor John Kasich has been alternately painful and reasonable on stage. At least he’s had the guts to take on Trump on the realities of deporting 11 million undocumented workers. Kasich, though, is a host of contradictions, notably in his campaign conduct and when it comes to deciphering what the hell he really stands for in foreign policy. And there’s the Flint water problem he may have on his hands…
- Governor Kasich, you refer to yourself as “the prince of light and hope.” But you are actively in an ad war with Jeb Bush, a candidate with whom you share numerous policy positions and would seemingly be your ally in any other scenario. How can you claim to run a positive campaign when you recently released a series of anti-Jeb Bush ads?
- Governor Kasich, you are adamant that Syrian President Assad must go and that there are moderates in Syria that we must support. How would you go about identifying these moderates?
- Governor Kasich, Ohio officials have known since October that water in Mahoning County was contaminated with high lead levels. Only on Jan. 21 were residents alerted to this hazard. How long have you known about this failure of your administration, and why did it take so long to protect the citizens of Ohio?
Marco Rubio has given the most beautifully scripted answers of this debate season—soaring and lofty, without actually saying much of anything. With Rubio, I’d just launch right back into the same territory all the other candidates have been hitting: his attendance record.
- Senator Rubio, your minimal campaign schedule in Iowa has been criticized—even Hillary Clinton has spent more time in Iowa than you. You have also been under scrutiny for missing Senate votes for campaign fundraisers. Do you have the work ethic to be Commander-in-Chief?
Tonight, Senator Rand Paul will re-claim his spot on the debate stage. I’m biased: I only recently left Senator Rand Paul’s presidential campaign to re-enter the world of commentary, and I think he’s the most consequential person on stage when it comes to foreign policy and criminal justice reform.
- Senator Paul, you were the only candidate—Democrat or Republican—willing to share your views on executive authority with the New York Times. In 2012, nine out of 12 candidates responded. Do Republicans have a double standard decrying President Obama’s abuse of executive authority when they embraced it during the Bush administration?
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