This editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:
Heat up the nachos, pop some corn: The big game is almost on. We’re talking, of course, about the Republican presidential debate, to be aired on Fox News from Cleveland on Thursday night. Fox announced which 10 candidates are ready for primetime. “Led” by Donald Trump, they’ll take the stage at 9 p.m., with the JV squad of poll-bottom-dwellers playing at 5 p.m.
With anticipation building about what Trump might do or say, the event might be history’s most-watched 15-months-before-an-election debate. The candidates and network alike are trying to prepare for whatever might come out of Trump’s mouth. The further back a candidate is trailing, the more likely it is that he or she will seek to shake things up with a memorable line. The media cross their fingers and hope for a rumble.
It’s little more than entertainment, we recognize. Still, it’d be a bonus if the debate actually shed light on questions important to voters. A touch of boring wouldn’t move the Nielsen ratings or the polls, but it might pay off in the longer run both for voters and for the candidates.
Dissatisfied voters are tired of establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, as the early support for Trump and Bernie Sanders attests. In the end, though, the American public returns to the safe, familiar and sane candidates, and they’ll likely do so again.
Voters in these early polls don’t care much about electability, but they will as we get closer to November 2016. And the successful candidate will have to win the handful of swing states that still exist, such as Florida, Ohio, Colorado and, yes, North Carolina.
To do that, they’ll have to convince moderate voters that they understand their hopes and fears and that they have a vision for addressing them.
Toward that end, here are five things we want to hear from the candidates tonight:
▪ Here are the specific steps I will take as president to end the increasingly tribal, increasingly petty blood war between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.
▪ The economic rebound since the 2008 recession has accrued almost entirely to the wealthiest Americans. This country’s greatness was fueled by a robust middle class. That’s disappearing, and here’s my plan for bringing it back.
▪ Because higher education is no longer optional in today’s economy, I will ensure every high school graduate has access to a two- or four-year college degree, and here’s how.
▪ Since I disagree with President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, I would instead offer this specific plan.
▪ You know I hate Obamacare as much as the next guy up here, but I recognize that it has expanded access to health care, protected people with pre-existing conditions and made insurance affordable for millions. So instead of repealing it, I’d improve it, and here’s how.
That may be too much to ask, and we concede it’s less entertaining than “You’re fired!” Sooner or later, though, voters are going to want some steak with their sizzle.
Tribune Content Agency