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Republican presidential debates have been a circus ever since Donald Trump started participating. At tonight’s debate, the first of the 2024 campaign cycle, we’ll find out whether things get even more chaotic in his absence.
Trump — who has opted to air an attention-sucking interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the same time instead of joining the debate — is way ahead in the polls and, by all appearances, the heavy favorite to win the nomination, despite four sets of criminal charges.
The eight candidates who gather on the stage in Milwaukee at 9 p.m. Eastern time can’t exactly ignore Trump: If nothing else, they need to address how they, as president, might handle their precedessor’s unprecedented multiple indictments.
But if one of them does become president, they will have to deal with a variety of issues, which is to say they’ll have to make choices about their principles and priorities, and how they’d handle real-world trade-offs. Those nitty-gritty questions are way harder — but way juicier — to have to answer than just giving candidates space to attack an opponent.
With that in mind, we asked HuffPost staff what they would ask the candidates if they were in charge in Milwaukee tonight. A few that came to mind were things like, If one of your kids told you that he/she was transgender, queer or nonbinary, would you support them?
and, Do vaccines cause autism? Show of hands.
or, Would you pardon Jan. 6 defendants?
See some of our other burning questions below.
- Did Mike Pence do the right thing on Jan. 6? Show of hands.
- Pandemic aid programs resulted in a massive drop in poverty in America ― a drop that disappeared when those programs expired. Why shouldn’t those pandemic-era aid programs be made permanent, given how successful they were?
- If one of your kids told you that he/she was transgender, queer or nonbinary, would you support them? Show of hands.
- Have you ever asked a mistress to get an abortion because you didn’t want your affair to become public?
- Lauri Carleton was killed in Southern California last week by a man who law enforcement said made “several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag” outside of her store and who referred to Carleton using “homophobic slurs.” What should the Republican Party’s next leader do to stop the wave of anti-LGBTQ hatred that Republican candidates and officials have promoted and used as a wedge issue?
- Many of you express skepticism about climate change and the need to take significant steps to slow or stop it. What if you’re wrong?
- The Inflation Reduction Act gave the federal government the power to negotiate drug prices in Medicare, with the announcement of the first 10 drugs subject to negotiation likely to come next week. But every Republican in Congress voted against the IRA, and, since its passage, several high-profile Republicans have said they want to repeal that provision. Do you also support its repeal, yes or no ― and why?
- If Joe Biden were campaigning for president while facing four criminal indictments, would that make him unfit to be run? And if so, would it make sense for Democrats to nominate another candidate with less legal baggage?
- Republicans spent many years trying to repeal Obamacare. That includes one of you (former Vice President Mike Pence) who helped lead that effort from the Trump White House and two of you (Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott) who voted for repeal it while in Congress. Most of the rest of you supported the idea rhetorically. So which of you still thinks Obamacare should be repealed. Show of hands?
- Would you be OK forcing your 13-year-old daughter to give birth to her rapist’s baby?
- Some of you support a federal abortion ban with no exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities. What about carrying a nonviable fetus to term is “pro-life”?
- Name one negative thing about Donald Trump and one positive thing that Democrats have done with control of both congressional chambers and the presidency
- Where do you get your news?
- This is about a Second Amendment case that the Supreme Court has taken for next year. If somebody is the subject of a restraining order for domestic violence, does the federal government have the right to prohibit that person from possessing a gun?
- Do you think child care has gotten too expensive? As president, what would you do about it?
- The U.S. is literally the only economically advanced nation that does not have laws or programs guaranteeing some form of paid leave for new parents. Do you think that’s OK? As president, what, if anything, would you do to make paid leave more available?
- Many of you support repealing the Inflation Reduction Act, but many of the clean energy policies in it are driving an increase in manufacturing investment in rural areas and in red states. Would you be OK with eliminating all of that investment in communities that need jobs?
- Under President Donald Trump, the Republican Party lost the House, the Senate and, yes, the White House. It was the first time that had happened to a party in 90 years. What would you have done differently to win?
- Donald Trump says that he won’t cut Social Security or Medicare. So does Joe Biden. Do you agree, or would you cut benefits, increase the eligibility age or otherwise change the terms for current and/or future retirees?
- Do vaccines cause autism? Show of hands.
- Anti-abortion activists are calling on the next Republican president to use the Comstock Act of 1873 as a way to further curtail abortion services across the country. Would you invoke the Comstock Act to outlaw sending abortion medication through the mail and, if so, would you do the same for other medical instruments or drugs used by abortion providers?
- Did Trump lose the 2020 election? Show of hands.
- Many Republicans have made the argument that the GOP is a workers’ party now. What will you do to protect workers’ rights to unionize?
- Define wokeness.
- Russia is the dominant exporter of nuclear reactors and processed uranium fuel. China is building more reactions than any other country and may soon begin exporting. Should the U.S. compete more directly in nuclear energy?
- Republicans have long supported nuclear power. What would you do to make it cheaper and easier to build new reactors?
- In his concurrence in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the court should “reconsider” other precedents built on the same legal foundation as Roe, including rulings that legalized birth control, same-sex intimate relations and same-sex marriage. Do you think that the court should review these precedents, and do you think they should be overturned?
- During Trump’s final weeks in the White House, he rushed to execute 13 people, ending a 17-year de facto moratorium on federal executions. That moratorium has been reinstated under the Biden administration while the Justice Department reviews death penalty policies and procedures. Would you resume federal executions?
- Would you pardon Jan. 6 defendants?
- Would you pardon Donald Trump and his co-conspirators?
- The nation’s “battery belt” for electric vehicles is forming across Republican states, especially Georgia. Are GOP governors, such as Georgia’s Brian Kemp, wrong to embrace federal money for electric-vehicle and clean-energy supply chains?
- Four states ― Florida, South Dakota, Iowa and Kentucky ― are refusing to apply for climate dollars through the Inflation Reduction Act, so the Environmental Protection Agency is sending money to their biggest cities instead. Given that municipalities lack the administrative and regulatory capacity of a state, doesn’t this guarantee that the money will be spent poorly?
- Given the rise in blackouts across the U.S., especially in states like Texas where the grid is disconnected from other power systems, do you support building more transmission lines between the nation’s electrical distribution networks?
- If you are the nominee and lose the general election, will you attempt a violent coup to gain power anyway?