Then-President Donald Trump and Joe Biden face off in October...

Then-President Donald Trump and Joe Biden face off in October 2020 during the presidential debate in Nashville. Credit: The Washington Post/Jabin Botsford

Next Thursday, President Joe Biden is scheduled to face Donald Trump, the predecessor he beat, in a CNN debate with strict decorum rules and — thank goodness — no screaming rival cheering sections as you might find in a game-show audience or past debates.

In case everyone has forgotten in this performative era: The point of a debate moderator’s provocative questions is to solicit honest answers on key issues. The idea, if not the practice, is neither softballs nor “gotchas” for their own sake.

If and when either candidate avoids questions, or gives silly answers, that should become glaringly apparent to the audience watching live at home. If done right, a debate takes on the tone of a dueling job interview with the public.

For show business’ sake, Biden, 81, and Trump, 78, are not barred from getting a boost from an energy drink or two beforehand.

Maybe this isn’t the election a lot of people wanted. But it is a unique opportunity to factually compare the recent performance of two consecutive presidencies. Here are some questions the candidates should answer:

For Trump: Most Americans grounded in reality know your false allegations that the 2020 election was “stolen” from you descended — objectively speaking — into an unsuccessful hoax. Looking back, was it all because you were so humiliated by the real results? Is this campaign all about you coping with multiple criminal prosecutions? 

For Biden: Why does it seem your administration waited years to react to throngs of migrants flooding into and straining different communities across the U.S.? Were you bowing to activists who derided ex-President Barack Obama as the “deporter-in-chief”?

For Trump: You claim as accomplishments a huge corporate tax cut, Supreme Court appointees who delivered big abortion and gun rights rulings, and deregulation. Wouldn’t these have happened under any Republican president?

For Biden: What does it say that you kept key Trump-term tariffs on manufactured goods, didn't get the corporate tax altered, and moved to complete the border fencing project begun under Trump?

For Trump: Why did you ultimately leave it to Biden to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, create a national infrastructure plan, boost employment figures, and negotiate a major reduction in the price of insulin?

For Biden: Wouldn’t it take acrobatics in the style of the senior citizen on the Six Flags commercial to convince people you’ll complete your next term in good mental shape at age 86? Weren't you going to be a “transitional” president? 

For Trump: How do you defend the way you managed to alienate dozens of your most reputable top aides, from Attorney General Bill Barr to Chief of Staff John Kelly to Gen. Mark Milley to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who have portrayed you as incompetent, impulsive, lawless or worse. And let’s not forget Vice President Mike Pence. Were they all socialists?

For Biden: How did Hunter really get those high-paid foreign jobs? Surely, you know and can share.

For Trump: How did your son-in-law Jared Kushner come out of Saudi Arabia with a billion-dollar investment commitment? Surely you know and can share.

For Biden: How can you prod your allies in Ukraine to agree to fair peace terms? What might those be?

For Trump: How can you prod your allies in Russia to agree to fair peace terms? What might those be?

If just a few blunt queries elicit real information, it will have been worth hearing from our most empowered senior citizens for 90 minutes.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.


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