Can Someone Finally Ask These Questions at the Republican Debate Tonight?

The stage will be practically spare in comparison to this debate from early February.

The stage will be practically spare in comparison to this debate from early February.

The remaining Republican presidential candidates—that’s Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich, if you weren’t keeping track—will appear on Fox News for a debate tonight at 6 pm. I’ll be live-tweeting the debate from the @civicskunkworks handle; I hope you’ll join me then.

So what should you expect? Well, surely Mitt Romney’s weird speech about Donald Trump from this morning will be a big topic of discussion/angle of attack. (Note to Mitt Romney: you are the single worst person in the world to hit Trump on tax returns.) The other candidates will simultaneously attempt to attack Trump and frame themselves as the lone adult onstage. They’ll talk about hating immigrants, and bombing other countries, and cutting taxes and regulations. There will be a lot of screaming.

But after months of an overstuffed field, the Republican field has finally been winnowed down to a manageable number. Between four candidates, they will undoubtedly be able to share a significant amount of speaking time, and in theory they will be able to field a broader array of questions. Here’s what I wish they would talk about:

The minimum wage. Every candidate left in the race has opposed raising the minimum wage, though Trump has since suggested that “wages in our country are too low.” So I’d propose a two-part question: Are wages in America too low? And if so, what do you want to do about it?

The middle class. Of the four remaining candidates, Trump speaks with the most passion about America’s shrinking middle class. That’s a problem. I would love to see these guys get into a fight about who cares more for the middle class. (And I’d be curious to see how they justify opposing a hike in the minimum wage immediately after they give lip service to the middle class, too.)

Infrastructure. Yet again, Trump is the only one of these four candidates who talks longingly of China’s new high-speed rail network. He complains about the sad state of our airports. He says he wants to improve America’s infrastructure, even if he’s not clear on how we’d pay for that. So the question for Trump is: if our transit and information infrastructures are in such shoddy shape—and they are—how, specifically, are you going to fix them? And the question for everybody else is: do you think America’s infrastructure is crumbling? If so, what’s your plan?

And finally, for the love of God, can they answer one single question on gun violence? Quick question: how many mass shootings have there been in America this week? Can’t remember? That’s exactly the problem. I’d love to hear their solutions for ending gun violence. Ideally, I’d love to hear them try to explain why they don’t favor popular policies like background checks and extreme risk protection orders.

After countless hours of debates and endless hours of speeches, most of these candidates have somehow survived a brutal primary process without going on the record in any meaningful way about the above four topics. Now that things are getting serious, it’s time for them to start talking about what really matters.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.