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Ten Questions the Audience Should Ask Clinton and Trump at Sunday’s Debate

Mr. Trump, how much did they pay you to be in that Playboy video?
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the first presidential debate. Photos by Patrick Semansky (left) and Julio Cortez (right) via AP

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the most-watched debate in history, a showdown between the two candidates at the center of a uniquely contentious campaign. And the vice-presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence was… fine. But the second presidential debate, Sunday at 9 PM EST, finally inches us closer to an election cycle that has already gone on far too long. It will also be the best chance for regular people to ask the candidates questions.


The format of this debate, moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC's Martha Raddatz*, is a town hall, designed to let an audience of undecided voters quiz the candidates on the issues. In theory at least, this will let us see Clinton and Trump interact with actual Americans, who live outside of the media bubble, and maybe allow for more questions that have nothing to do with the banal "narrative" of the campaign. But sometimes these questions can be brutal—at an event focusing on national security hosted by NBC last month, a former Navy officer in the audience asked Clinton, "How can you expect those such as myself who were, and are, entrusted with America's most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?"

It's hard to say whether Sunday's audience will be as tough as that guy was, but given the often intense dislike the two candidates inspire, there is sure to be some heat thrown their way. And if there are any members of the audience reading this, here are some questions we really hope you'd ask:

Hillary Clinton

  • A lot of issues with the criminal justice system directly coincide with your husband's time in office—the expansion of "broken windows" policing nationwide, the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing and harsh crime laws, and, as a result, the highest incarceration rates ever seen under a president. You have since apologized for using the word "superpredator" to describe gang members in the 90s and endorsed a lot of criminal justice reforms. What in your thinking changed and why, and why should those calling for reform in the system now trust your judgment?


  • You say that you're now against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which has become a contentious campaign issue. But what changed about the deal itself that no longer made it the "gold standard," as you once called it? What lost your support? Is there anything that could change about it that would lead to you backing it again?

  • Libya has become a hotbed for extremism, and one of ISIS's main targets, as refugees have been using the country as a safe getaway to Europe. You were one of the principal architects of the plan to take Muammar Gaddafi out in 2011. What went wrong there? Do you have any regrets at all?

  • Was the Associated Press report, which said that the Clinton Foundation's donors made up more than half of your meetings as secretary of state, accurate? If not, why? Or in other words—can you please just clear the air about the foundation, in general? And, if you have time in the what always seems like less than two minutes we're giving you, maybe the emails, too? Like, that dude who smashed two BlackBerries… what was that about? Please just explain it in a way ordinary people can understand.

Donald Trump

  • In all your business and charitable dealings, have you ever attempted to avoid paying income tax in your entire life? Like, ever, ever. When was the last time you paid federal income tax?

  • Have you regretted anything you've ever said or done?

  • How much did they pay you to be in that Playboy video? Or did they just make a donation to the Trump Foundation?

  • I'm not calling you a racist, but look—you must know that some of your ardent supporters, like David Duke, for instance, are extremely bigoted people. Ronald Reagan once publicly disavowed the support of the Ku Klux Klan, writing, "Those of us in public life can only resent the use of our names by those who seek political recognition for the repugnant doctrines of hate they espouse." Do you similarly reject the support of such people? What do you think of these white supremacists?
  • A broad majority of your supporters express sentiments about economic anxiety, and this idea that the corporate and Washington, DC, elite has left them behind. Yet many of these feelings are created, and continually exasperated, by the historically wide income gap, and growing consolidation of economic and political power at the top—the rich are getting richer, and the poor, poorer, while corporations find cheap labor overseas, pay little to no income tax, and exert a massive amount influence over the government. Now, your tax plan would cut corporate taxes and income taxes for the rich, essentially giving the extremely wealthy an even freer pass—which would presumably further deepen this feeling of economic dread that drives your supporters' angst and division from the rest of America. So, I guess what I'm trying to say here is this: What gives?

Update: An earlier version of this article failed to mention that ABC's Martha Raddatz was co-moderating the debate with Anderson Cooper.

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