Republicans will hold their second presidential debate on Sept. 16, and if it’s anything like the first, it’s bound to be a doozy.
The continued ascent of Donald Trump, and his unmitigated displays of ego, id, racism and sexism, guarantee a viewership many times larger than what a “normal” intraparty debate 14 months before the general election would draw.
An audience that should extend well beyond the party faithful, however, places a special obligation on CNN’s moderators: They need to extend their questions to topics that fall outside Republicans’ comfort zones.
While the three Fox News questioners in the initial debate Aug. 6 did a good job of enabling the candidates to differentiate themselves on issues of concern to GOP activists, there was a raft of issues they left largely untouched.
Chief among these was the economy, the perennial No. 1 concern of Americans generally and of rank-and-file Republicans, too, but also a topic that Fox News tends to underplay.
This isn’t a one-party suggestion. When the Democratic candidates meet for their first debate in October, a general-election set of questions would be in order for them as well.
But the insularity of the discourse in conservative media is such that economic issues on which substantial numbers and, on occasion, majorities of Republicans agree with their Democratic and independent compatriots are rarely brought up for fear they'll run afoul of GOP political correctness.
It’s all the more incumbent for the moderators in the upcoming Republican debates to pose such questions. Here are a few:
▪ Should employers be legally required to give their employees paid sick leave? In a CBS News/New York Times poll from late May, 85 percent of the public and 77 percent of Republicans favored the idea.
A recent report revealed that 23 percent of working mothers have had to report back to work within two weeks of giving birth, lest they lose their jobs. The United States is one of a handful of nations that haven’t created a right to paid maternity leave.
That same CBS News/Times poll asked whether employers should be required to give paid leave to parents of newborns and to employees caring for sick relatives, and found 80 percent support among all Americans and 71 percent support among Republicans.
▪ President Obama has called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, a proposal that 71 percent of Americans and 50 percent of Republicans support. Do you?
▪ Would you back a measure raising taxes on people who make more than $1 million a year, something that 68 percent of Americans and 53 percent of Republicans support?
▪ A 2012 survey conducted for the National Academy of Social Insurance asked if Americans would favor increasing taxes on workers to preserve Social Security. Eighty-two percent of Americans and 74 percent of Republicans said yes. What’s your position?
▪ The survey also asked about raising taxes on the wealthy to preserve Social Security, a proposal that 87 percent of Americans and 71 percent of Republicans backed. Do you?
▪ Would you favor breaking up the banks that are designated as too-big-to-fail? Would you favor passing a new version of the Glass-Steagall Act that separates federally insured depositor banks from trading and investment banks?
▪ Do you think that globalization has placed downward pressure on U.S. wages? If you do, how would you propose to offset that?
▪ In recent decades, the burden of paying for public higher education has been substantially shifted from taxpayers to students and their families. Do you favor increasing the public investment in public colleges and universities to bring down student debt, even if it requires raising taxes on the wealthy?
It’s time for the GOP candidates to confront some real-world economic choices. Moderators, to your marks.
Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect.