Home

CNN: Make the Next Debate About the Big Stuff

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

CNN moderator Jake Tapper can’t avoid questioning the Republican presidential candidates about the subjects that have dominated the GOP race so far — immigration, Planned Parenthood and Donald Trump — but in Wednesday night's debate he ought to try to get answers on other issues that are much more important to American voters.  

At the top ought to be: What, exactly, are you going to do to restore the American dream of economic opportunity for current workers and future generations? It’s all well and good for Jeb Bush to explain how his new tax plan will raise the U.S. growth rate to 4 percent and Trump's slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is just that. As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., often says, U.S. workers face a different kind of economy than in the past because of technology and international competition. In fact, real wages have been stagnant for 20 years.  That’s a diagnosis, not a prescription or a cure.  

Being Republicans, the candidates will likely say the answers are to lower corporate taxes and stop over-regulating business. But according to the Government Accountability Office, large corporations actually pay at the rate of 12.6 percent, not the official rate (second highest in the world) of 35 percent. Thirty-five percent . Twenty of the biggest pay no federal taxes at all . Lots of corporations are beneficiaries of tax breaks and subsidies — “corporate welfare.” Will the candidates take on Big Oil, farm subsidies, hedge fund operators, sugar quotas and ethanol requirements the way they might attack welfare dependency? And, which regulations, exactly will be out: worker health and safety, clean air, clean water, mine safety, oversight of the banking system?  

Trump will likely blame flat incomes on bad trade deals cut by “stupid” American leaders and say Mexican immigrants, when they aren’t raping and robbing, are stealing the jobs of American citizens. But if the U.S. raises tariffs on imports, what’s to prevent China and Mexico — and Canada and the European Union, our biggest trading partners — from doing the same, locking out U.S. exports and setting off a global trade war? And do Trump and other candidates favoring mass deportation of illegals expect American workers to clean houses, tend golf courses, pick crops and do odd construction work? Where’s the evidence they’ll do so? Immigration can’t be avoided in the debate, for sure. But Tapper and co-interviewer Hugh Hewitt ought to ask what it's going to cost the U.S. — in money, global reputation and internal unity — to track down and drive out 11 million people. And Trump needs to be asked directly: Can you guarantee that all the people working on your golf courses and cleaning your hotel rooms are U.S. citizens?  

What’s the role of investing in infrastructure in providing jobs, if any? According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks 12th in the world in the quality of its roads, bridges, dams, airports, waterways etc. and the American Society of Civil Engineers says the U.S. needs to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020 to get up to speed. Are the GOP candidates willing to do that? How will they pay for it? And balance the federal budget, as they all seem to want to do? If they think that’s “wasteful spending,” do they want China to have better railroads than we do forever?  

And what’s the role of education? The U.S. ranks 14th among nations in overall education performance. Average SAT scores have fallen to their lowest level in 10 years. What do the candidates propose to do about that?  

A good general question would be: Do you agree with Trump that America is now a "hell hole" or with Bush that "we're on the verge of the greatest time to be alive? Both of them ought to have to defend those statements.  

But then there’s foreign policy. The GOP candidates can be expected to denounce Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement and promise to tear it up if elected. But how will that retard Iran’s pursuit of a bomb? Won’t Iran just accelerate its program? If the candidates say they’d impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran to get a better deal, how would that work when European parties to the deal are already lifting sanctions? Is anybody ready to bomb Iran?  

For those who’d rely on Kurds and Arab allies to deal with the problem, offering them weapons, air support and advice, suppose that doesn’t work, as it isn’t in Iraq? Do we wait till the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS, pulls a 9/11 before getting serious about it?  

And Vladimir Putin: is he an enemy to be countered at every turn, Cold War style, or a troublesome character who might be maneuvered into constructive co-operation (say, against ISIS)? What’s the U.S. to do about Ukraine, for centuries a part of Russia’s sphere of influence? Do we risk war with Russia to protect Ukraine as we would a NATO member?  

Who’s more of a danger — China, Russia, Iran or ISIS? Are we going to fight all of them at once? If not, what’s the strategy?  

The GOP candidates are all going to blame Obama for everything that’s wrong with the nation and the world. Tapper and Hewitt ought to say: Stop right there — elections are about the future, not the past. We want to know what you are going to do about the world you might inherit. And be specific.  

Related: Who's In? 2016 Presidential Candidates A Significant Reassessment of the GOP Race