Most viewers of the first 2020 presidential debate were disgusted with the shouting and the bellicose tone of the match, and because most of the shouting and disrupting came from President Trump, he took a big hit in the morning-after polls and in polling since.
In any remaining debates, the president needs a different approach, one that highlights his long list of achievements and contrasts them with Joe Biden’s skimpy set. If the debates do not occur, as seems possible given the attempt to change their format, any media organization worthy of the designation owes it to the American public to ask these questions of Biden.
The most consequential incident in election debate history was not the proclamation of a compelling policy position, but the asking of a simple question: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Instead of being combative, Trump ought to follow Ronald Reagan’s example and ask questions, many of which an honest media would already have made Biden answer.
What questions? In addition to pinning Biden down on his positions, the president should insist that Biden stipulate whether he would overturn specific gains of Trump’s presidency. The president can emphasize his numerous achievements by asking whether Biden would dismantle them.
Last month, CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, asked the former vice president if Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) is better than the North American Free Trade Agreement it replaced (NAFTA). Biden dodged the question, but after repeated prodding from Tapper, he acknowledged USMCA is better, and in so doing, conceded Trump had achieved something great for America.
When responding to a debate question, the president should ask the former vice president if he would overturn a specific achievement of Trump’s presidency, and like Tapper, he should keep asking until Biden answers.
The more Biden equivocates or evades, the more apparent it will be to viewers that Trump’s gains are praiseworthy. Asking Biden if he would overturn Trump’s accomplishments also serves to educate voters on his achievements. The more evident it becomes that his administration has been successful, the more likely voters will be to give the president another term.
Here are some examples of questions Biden needs to answer from either the media or Trump in a debate.
- Do you still feel it was xenophobic of Trump to ban travel from China early in the pandemic?
- On March 22, Dr. Anthony Fauci called the Trump administration’s coordinated response to the pandemic “impressive,” and that he couldn’t imagine anyone “could be doing more.” Do you think Fauci was deceiving the American people when he said that?
- Do you oppose the Trump administration’s “Warp Speed” efforts to fast-track therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19?
- The Trump administration tasked the private sector to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, testing devices, therapeutics, and vaccines at a record pace. It will deliver a vaccine in the coming days, and leave the nation’s stockpile of PPE and other critical supplies fully replenished. Besides calling for a longer shutdown and a nationwide mandate for wearing masks, what would you have done differently?
- Will you terminate the agreement Trump brokered with Mexico that resulted in Mexico patrolling its borders?
- Will you end the construction of the border wall on the southern border? Will you tear down the segments of the wall already built?
On Domestic Issues
- Do you intend to forfeit our energy independence while we wait for affordable, renewable energy sources to emerge?
- Will you try to rescind the First Step Act that revamped the criminal justice system you put in place that disproportionally harmed African Americans?
- Will you try to rescind the VA Choice bill that expands health care options for veterans?
- Will you rescind Trump’s executive orders compelling drug companies to reduce prices?
- Will you try to repeal “Opportunity Zones”?
On International Relations
- The ISIS caliphate has been destroyed, peace negotiations are underway in Afghanistan, and most of our troops have come home. In regard to foreign wars, will you concede we are better off today than we were when you and Obama left office?
- Will you recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and keep our embassy there?
- Do you support the peace accords the Trump administration brokered between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain, and Kosovo and Serbia?
- Is USMCA better than NAFTA?
- Do you favor allowing NATO members to elude paying their share of alliance expenses?
- The Trump administration has disrupted China’s ambition to dominate the world. What did you and President Obama do to curb China’s aggression and hold them accountable for unfair trade practices?
These are just some of the many valuable queries that could be put to Biden on Trump’s most undisputed successes. As Biden would be hard-pressed to oppose any of them, that poses a dilemma. If he concedes the gains are worth keeping, it helps validate Trump’s presidency. If he says they should be overturned, he risks mocking common sense and offending mainstream voters.
The most compelling case for electing Trump to a second term is the strong record of accomplishment in his first term. Forcing Biden to assert which achievements he would overturn should be the go-to strategy not just in any remaining debates but in all the interviews, speeches, and rallies the president will have before Election Day. Instead of focusing solely on Trump’s demeanor, the conversation would evolve to include his record of accomplishments versus Biden’s ever-shifting positions and thread-bare resume.
Republican candidates could also benefit from employing this tactic, asking their opponents whether they favor upending specific Trump administration gains. This could be just the election-shifting change Trump needs.