The second presidential debate of the 2016 election will be held at Washington University in St. Louis on Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern, and may be the most decisive of the three debates.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was widely seen as the winner of the first debate, and could hurt her opponent’s chances if she goads him into a serious error or gaffe. But Republican nominee Donald Trump has bounced back in the polls, and is riding the momentum of his running mate’s strong performance in the vice presidential debate. If Trump turns in a solid performance on Sunday, he could sprint to catch Clinton at the finish.
The moderators of the town hall-style debate will be Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Anderson Cooper of CNN. Both lean left, and both can be expected to be tougher on Trump than on Clinton.
Here are five questions that both Trump and Clinton should expect to face, either from the moderators or — in some form — from the participants in the town hall, whose questions will be pre-screened.
1. With Hurricane Matthew battering the Atlantic coast, what will you do about climate change? The question makes no scientific sense, because Hurricane Matthew has nothing to do with climate change. In fact, until this year, no hurricanes had hit the U.S. in more than ten years, confounding the predictions of climate alarmists. But the question will be asked, and is designed to test Trump against the liberal climate orthodoxy. (Clinton’s answer will be the usual boilerplate, coupled with a charge of “denialism” against Trump).
Trump will have to thread the needle carefully. Without denying climate change as a whole, he will have to note that shutting down the coal industry, as Clinton wants to do, cannot be the answer. He should also note that he personally visited Louisiana this summer to visit flood victims, while Clinton hobnobbed on Martha’s Vineyard.
2. Both of you have high disapproval ratings. How will you be a role model for America’s children? That question, or something like it, will be another veiled attack on Trump, since Clinton is a role model by default for being the first female nominee for president from a major party, no matter how poor a candidate she may be. Expect Clinton to bring out the same attack lines that feature in her campaign commercials, and which her running mate pounded at the vice presidential debate.
The question gives Trump an opportunity to score points off Clinton for her many scandals. But the best response is for Trump for to point to his own children — especially his daughter Ivanka — who are successful, poised, and his best character witnesses.
3. Hundreds of thousands may die in Aleppo, the latest in a brutal civil war. What should we do about Syria? Expect this question to come from Anderson Cooper, who likes to show his foreign policy chops. It is the question neither candidate wants to answer, since the problem cannot really be solved short of war with Iran and confrontation with Russia. Clinton has a standard answer, which is to talk about continuing the Obama administration’s fight against ISIS (such as it is). She may try to claim she wanted to do more about Syria as Secretary of State but was overruled.
If she does, Trump should not let her off the hook: if she really cared about Syria, she ought to have resigned. As for his own policy, his strongest point is his criticism of Arab countries for doing everything to stoke the fighting and nothing to help the refugees. He should pledge to stop that.
4. The economy continues to create jobs, and household incomes rose last year. How will you improve on that? In the first debate, the moderator painted a rosy picture of Obama’s economic record. Clinton, who proposes to continue Obama’s policies, but with an even greater focus on inequality (if that is even possible), will rattle off her talking points about raising the minimum wage and taxing the rich.
Trump, who pushed back in the first debate by noting that the stock market is in a bubble and that Clinton has never created a real job in her life, should offer a better response this time, with three parts. First, he should talk about the Americans whom he has met on the campaign trail who are suffering in the Obama-Clinton economy and who are uncertain about the future. Second, he should bring up Obamacare, which has helped make this recovery the slowest since World War II, and which Clinton supports completely. And third, he should note that Clinton’s policies — higher taxes, higher fuel prices, more unskilled illegal aliens, and more needless regulations — will make the economy even worse.
5. I’m a veteran who lost friends in war. How can I trust either of you to be commander-in-chief? At least one question will — and probably should — go to a soldier, or a soldier’s family, to present the “commander-in-chief” test. In this case, the question will also allow CNN and ABC to revive the Khizr Khan controversy, which marked the low point for Trump in the general election. Clinton will emphasize her experience in office, however dubious. She may even recycle her running mate’s line that when she took office as Secretary of State, Osama bin Laden was still alive — to which Trump should answer: yes, and so were Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods.
In addition to hammering her over Benghazi, and her lies to the bereaved families, Trump should borrow his own running mate’s tactics and remind Clinton of the failed Russian “reset,” the disaster in Iraq, and the awful Iran deal. He must also make a promise: though he may not have served in the military, he will never sleep when there are Americans in danger, and Americans risking their lives to save them.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.