- - Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The supposedly nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has selected the following topics for Thursday night’s final encounter between President Trump and Joe Biden: “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security” and “Leadership.” The commission also announced it will mute the microphone of the candidate who is not talking, which could be advantageous for President Trump since the more Mr. Biden talks the less clear he becomes.

Are these topics priorities for most voters? Not according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly eight in 10 registered voters say the economy is their number one issue, followed by health care, U.S. Supreme Court appointments, the virus and foreign policy. Race and ethnic inequality come in number eight (52%) and climate change ranks next to last at just 42%.

Voters should be allowed to select the topics of greatest concern to them, not political elites who are likely still getting their paychecks while many Americans have lost jobs.

What does “American families” mean? It sounds to me like another opportunity for Mr. Biden to take an anything-goes stand as he did in last week’s town hall on ABC, when he responded to a woman who asked about her transgender child by saying there should be “no discrimination.”

“Race in America” is too broad a topic. The president might say that Mr. Biden and other Democrats have not fixed the racial divide, so why should Mr. Biden, who has held elected offices for 47 years, be expected to do better if he becomes president? Mr. Biden opposes school choice, which would open the door to a better future for disadvantaged children trapped in failing public schools.



“National Security” is a subject on which Mr. Trump clearly enjoys an advantage. He has brokered a deal between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel; he is ending America’s involvement in foreign wars; he has imposed serious sanctions on Iran (the Obama-Biden administration gave $1.7 billion to the regime, claiming it was their money anyway, then signed a nuclear deal that Iran was bound to violate). Mr. Trump has also made European nations pay more for their own defense.

The president can also bring up Mr. Biden’s policy that resulted in the firing of Ukraine’s prosecutor, who was looking into the Burisma energy company and Hunter Biden’s highly paid role as an inexperienced member of its board of directors. Joe Biden publicly bragged about it as a condition of Ukraine receiving a $1 billion U.S. loan.

“Race and violence in our cities” was a topic in the previous debate. Why bring it up again since it ranks eighth in the Pew survey among public concerns?

As for leadership, I assume that will give Mr. Biden an opportunity to claim he can “bring us to together.” What does that mean? Does it mean Republicans must abandon their beliefs? Better to win the argument over whose ideas work and whose have not than to embrace a group hug. The president should take advantage of this topic to say what the next four years would look like, especially with a Republican Congress, should he win reelection.

At bottom, the debate commission should be retired. It is 60 years old and has exceeded its sell-by date.

Presidential candidates should be given 30 minutes to outline their ideas and why they believe they will work. Each candidate could question the other. If there must be moderators, let each candidate pick one, not the commission.

The political elites and insiders are still running too much of our political system. By adopting serious reforms in how we elect presidents the public will be better served. That should be the goal.

• Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist, is the author of “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires, Superpowers and the United States” (HarperCollins/Zondervan, January 2020).

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