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In the modern era, we’ve never had two presidential candidates who were so unpopular among voters. So the coming three debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump will be quite telling.
Whom will voters end up disliking less?
Trump has generated anger and outrage throughout his campaign. He has been called out for making misogynistic comments and for likening Mexican immigrants to criminals and rapists. He has proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S. on the basis of religion, mocked a reporter with a physical disability and claimed that climate change is a hoax. And let’s not forget that for years he refused to acknowledge that President Obama was born in the United States.
The billionaire real estate mogul also refuses to release his tax returns for public scrutiny. His excuse is that he’s under audit. But voters from California to Florida should know whether they paid a higher tax rate than Trump.
Clinton’s issues center lately on coughs and credibility. People have trouble trusting her, the polls say. Why did Clinton erase thousands of emails from a private server? Did she have something to hide? Additionally, her campaign has been dogged by suspicions about conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department when she was secretary of state.
The cough thing, due to a bout of pneumonia, could happen to anyone, but why did she delay admitting that she was ill for several days? If Clinton was elected, would such evasions be standard operating procedure at the White House?
I doubt whether we’ll get answers to all of our lingering questions about Trump and Clinton. But I expect that the debates will clarify who’s the best person to lead the world’s most powerful nation in this time of great division.
Personally, I’m eager to hear how the candidates plan to deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. These immigrants are part of our economy and society, and they won’t leave willingly. They’re here because thousands of companies are hiring them, and millions of people are benefiting from their work.
The first debate, on Sept. 26, will feature just two candidates — but I wish that there were four. It’s a shame that neither Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, nor the Green Party’s Jill Stein will be on stage. I’ve recently organized forums with Johnson and Stein, and they have ideas that we’d likely never hear from Clinton or Trump. Their candidacies are a real third option, and it’s hard to understand why the Commission on Presidential Debates, in a fractious electoral cycle like this one, wasn’t more flexible about admitting only candidates who have at least 15% of voter support in the polls.
I have to say I greatly admire the journalists who will participate as moderators in the three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. I know they’re under tremendous pressure — and I hope they understand that this time their role is quite different than in the past.
It used to be that moderators raised topics, then distanced themselves to allow the candidates to say whatever they wanted. But no more. Today’s moderators should be what they are: journalists. They should be active and reactive, not passive and patient.
I’d advise the moderators to take a side — not with the candidates, but with the voters. These debates should be journalism as a public service. The moderators should ask tough questions, point out inaccuracies or discrepancies, and pressure candidates if they speak without answering the questions.
If both campaigns complain about the debates’ moderators, we’ll know they did a good job.
The presidential stakes are especially high this year, and not just in the U.S. The debates are the ultimate litmus test to determine whether a candidate is ready to be commander in chief. I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire world will be watching and debating the debates.
(Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision and the host of “America With Jorge Ramos” on Fusion. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)