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Donald Trump has a well-documented penchant for rarely answering direct questions. If journalists try to pin him down, they get mocked or have their press credentials revoked. They also get physically removed from public events. And, if they don’t have all the facts at their fingertips to challenge him on his evasion tactics, Trump gaslights them, turning his own words around to embarrass the questioner and make Trump himself look like the winner.
As we eagerly anticipate the first presidential debate of 2016, NBC’s Lester Holt takes on the task of moderator and it’s clear that he’s going to have to be fully prepped on Trump’s less than fully formed policy positions and on the myriad statements that the media have said “stretch the truth and are downright lies.
Debate moderators can’t force a candidate to answer the questions asked; the formats don’t allow for that. What Holt can do, however, is adopt something of a cross-examination technique to see how the candidate with the most “Pants on Fire” ratings from the Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checking site Politifact responds.
So, since voters are the ultimate jury for this 2016 contest, the five questions I want Lester Holt to ask of Trump, AND hold Trump’s feet to the fire on them (unlike his NBC colleague Matt Lauer), are these:
1. Mitt Romney said on Twitter, “It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters … [because they can shed light on] … the potential for hidden inappropriate associations with foreign entities, criminal organizations, or other unsavory groups is simply too great a risk to ignore for someone who is seeking to become commander-in-chief.”
A recent well-researched Newsweek article on Trump’s finances and business dealings show they raise a serious national security risk to Americans and pose “conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.” Richard Nixon released his tax returns while under audit and Trump’s son recently said the real reason for not releasing them is that he believes they would become a distraction.
Voters expect this level of transparency from their presidential candidates, so why not put this all to rest and just let the Americans see your tax returns, especially since Hillary Clinton’s tax returns for the last 38 years are public?
2. America is a country built on immigrants, yet Trump’s policies are xenophobic. He’s called Mexicans liars and rapists and he’s said he believes we need to build a wall akin to the Great Wall of China to keep them out. He says Muslims should be banned from entering our country, stoking fears by saying that if we don’t we’ll no longer have a country. He claims that African Americans are in the worst situation here ever, ignoring our country’s history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the struggle for voting rights. White supremacists like David Duke champion him.
So how do any of those types of comments help put our country on the right path right for America?
3. In a world where diplomacy is one of the most important ways to handle crises, how does Trump think he, as a person who has advocated extreme measures, can, as president, keep the world from imploding as a result of so many regional conflicts?
With regard to ISIS and extremists in the Middle East, he’s said he’d “bomb the shit” out of them. He claims to know more about ISIS than anyone, and has questioned why we have nuclear weapons if we aren’t going to use them. This past week it was reported that one of his foreign policy advisers has close ties with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. How does he expect Americans to trust that he will put their interests, and the interests of the country, ahead of his financial interests, and those of his closest advisers?
4. Women are the majority of American voters and have been since at least 1980.
So to get elected, Trump must win the votes of women regardless of party. He has unapologetically called women pigs, slobs, fat, ugly, and many more insults. He’s called women who disagree with him “dogs”, he’s called women who breastfeed “disgusting”, and ha said that rape of women in the military is to be expected when men and women are both serving our country in uniform. With these positions, how does he expect any woman voter to take you seriously?
5. Why does he even want to be president? Trump said in 2008 he thought Hillary Clinton would make a great president.
He invited her to his third wedding, said she did a good job as secretary of state, and said he admired her as a First Lady. He’s alienated many Republicans and conservatives whose support he needs to get anything done in the White House. He’s never run for any other elective office and has made it clear that he’s given money to candidates on both sides of the aisle so he can get things done in his business world. So why would he want to give up his business empire to be the policy leader of the free world?
I have no expectation that we will get any straight answers from Trump in any debate. But because of his history of dodging questions, I do expect moderators like Holt to focus on the issues that are important for voters to know and make sure that Trump doesn’t slither his way out of giving us the responses we, as voters, are entitled to.