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Questions for Tonight’s Debate

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Republican presidential hopefuls Santorum, Bachmann, Gingrich and Romney stand onstage during photo opportunity prior to New Hampshire debate in Manchester

The would-be nominees gather in Iowa tonight, with Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos as moderators. Interestingly, though both are seen as left of center, both have also worked for presidents –Diane Sawyer for Richard Nixon and Stephanopoulos of course for Bill Clinton. (I actually took over Sawyer’s Western White House office when she left RN’s staff in 1978 and I joined it at America’s Elba –San Clemente).

I am hoping their presidential pedigrees will get some serious questions out of them about decision-making and staffing in an Administration, but there are also some very obvious questions to be posed.

Mitt Romney charged President Obama with appeasement this week, and the president responded by saying check that out with bin Laden and other dead terrorists, which of course betrays that the president has no idea what appeasement means. That long range exchange is worth following up.

Newt’s been charged with “unreliability” and “instability,” going back as far as his confrontations with Stephanopoulos’ boss and extending up to the “social engineering” slam on Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, so hopefully George will ask for the former Speaker’s explanations of various key episodes.

We are three weeks out and the issues have narrowed to temperament and electability, with most serious conservative essayists agreeing on this and on the fact that most of the candidates agree on most details of most issues. Gotcha questions would thus be absurd, as would questions on evolution/favorite ice cream/name a left tackle on the Redskins stuff. Electability and temperament are the keys right now, so I hope the moderators focus on questions that will assist in those assessments.

To help along debate prep, here are the three questions I would ask, one each for the two front-runners and one for the stealth candidate, Rick Santorum:

1. Speaker Gingrich, you are leading in all early state polls except New Hampshire, but every major endorsement to date –John Thune, Chris Christie, Tim Pawlenty come to mind as three men who themselves either ran for the nomination or thought about it and had lots of support to do so– and almost all of the sitting members of Congress who have endorsed have endorsed Mitt Romney. Why haven’t you been able to attract the support of experienced, respected leaders of the Republican party, including those who served under you in Congress?

2. Governor Romney, an ad team in Los Angeles is said to be working on a campaign that will identify every company you took over during your time as an investment banker and every employee who lost their job and possibly their home by your reorganization of those companies. There are said to be more than 400 such companies, and tens of thousands of such heart-breaking stories. With the allegation of the 1%-99% divide in the country, how will you be able to persuasively tell people that you will bring back jobs when you made a career, and a fortune, destroying them?

3. Senator Santorum, when you google your name you get high in the entries that come back a vulgar neologism that is the product of a sustained campaign against you by gay rights activists. Why does this particular segment of the population hold you in such contempt and intend you such obvious political harm, and how could you overcome this kind of personal animus if you were the party’s nominee against a widely-liked if not widely-admired Barack Obama?

The show begins at 9 PM EST, from Drake University, and of course will be carried on ABC.

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