Would better questions lead to better debates?

Tevi Troy thinks so. In a column posted at Politico, he suggests that the standard format planned for Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate at the Reagan library is unlikely to yield much useful information.

Troy suggests an alternative:

In this debate, the moderators should discard their traditional “gotcha” questions. No one cares why a candidate said X in 2010 versus Y in 2009. Instead, journalists should focus on some key philosophical questions that get to the heart of what it means to be a conservative in 2011 and how that might shape the decisions a candidate might make as president.

In other words, the path to the most informed and engaging debate is to ask concise, direct and simple questions. For instance:

What books have shaped your worldview?

Candidates often are ready for the question of what books they are reading now – usually serious works of biography, history or current events. Asking about the books that have shaped them would offer a better sense of their thinking, and how they would approach unpredictable events.

Which presidential portraits would you put up in the White House, and how would their examples guide your presidency?

William F. Buckley posed this question to the Democratic and Republican candidates in separate primary debates in 1988 because he believed that it would provide a profound insight into a candidate would approach the presidency. Among Reagan’s choices was a little known president, Calvin Coolidge, who believed in limited government, the duty of public servants, the power of free markets and the ability of the American people to solve problems themselves. Sound familiar?

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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