Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


At 8 p.m. Thursday, Minnesota time, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are scheduled to meet each other in the first of two formal debates planned before this year's presidential election. The moderators will be CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. did not meet polling and ballot requirements that would have allowed him to participate.

Perhaps you've given up on the debate format, and we wouldn't blame you. While two-person debates historically have been more staid and constructive than the multicandidate scrums seen before parties settle on their candidates, everyone knows the dynamic has changed. That's why there'll be no studio audience and why CNN plans to enforce time limits and to mute interruptions. That's promising. But we'll see.

We'll remind you that, technically, neither Biden nor Trump is officially their respective party's nominee. Will this be the first election in many cycles to be thrown in the air by a surprise withdrawal or a convention battle?

You're right. Probably not.

So it would be nice to have a substantive discussion with Biden and Trump — one that tells voters something they don't know. Tapper and Bash are talented interviewers and will hit as many key points as they can, but we have a few questions that would be helpful for Minnesotans and others we think would be generally revealing. (And, readers, we invite you to submit your own questions over the next couple of days to opinion@startribune.com.)

• Axios reports that a quarter of Americans hold unfavorable views of both of you — "the highest share of 'double haters' at this stage in any of the last 10 elections, according to new Pew Research data." Thinking only of your own unfavorability numbers, why do you think this is?

• How do you plan to win over those people who have no interest in voting for either of you?

• Economic messaging is powerful in campaigns. What is your understanding of a president's actual influence on the economy?

• Both of you have proposed policies, ranging from tariffs to fiscal stimulus, that are considered by economists to be inflationary. Do you disagree with this conventional wisdom?

• Mr. Trump, in 2018 you chose Jerome Powell to lead the Federal Reserve. You criticized him thereafter and have said you wouldn't reappoint him. What is your philosophy regarding the role of the Fed and its leadership?

• President Biden, you renominated Powell in 2022. Would you do so again if he wants to stay on after 2026?

• The annual report from the Trustees for Social Security and Medicare predicts that the trust fund for both of these programs will exhaust their reserves in about a decade. Specifically — without casting blame on previous presidential administrations or Congress — what will you do to ensure that these programs endure?

• A pathogen known as "highly pathogenic avian influenza" has infected both poultry flocks and dairy herds across the United States. In your view, is the current testing and disease control management strategy adequate? And what government relief is necessary to help dairy farmers whose herds are impacted by this outbreak?

• The Biden administration put a 20-year moratorium on copper mining on more than 224,000 acres in the Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed. Do you support making these protections permanent?

• Mr. Trump, you've pledged to end the war in Ukraine "in one day." What is your plan, does it mean Ukraine cedes territory to Russia, and what are the ramifications of rewarding Russia for invading a sovereign nation, for not just Moscow but Beijing and elsewhere?

• President Biden, while your administration has granted most of Ukraine's requested weapons, nearly every military analyst says that the approvals have come too late to be maximally effective. Since the U.S. is investing billions in Ukraine's capacity, why not arm them to win?

• Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, wrongfully imprisoned in Russia under false accusations, has just been indicted. How do you propose we respond?

• President Biden, can you say why you think many people are frustrated with your handling of the southern border, and whether they're right to be?

• President Biden, the same question regarding U.S. support of Israel?

• To both of you: The U.S. Supreme Court has been awash in ethics scandals. In November, it created a code of ethics that is essentially self-enforced by the justices. Should enforcement fall to an outside party? If yes, whom?

• President Biden, you're the oldest serving U.S. president ever. Many people watching you over these last four years have perceived a diminished capacity to do the job. A simple test for cognitive decline is to name the months of the year in reverse order. Please do that now.

• Mr. Trump, your discursive campaign speeches have raised eyebrows. Those notwithstanding, you boasted again recently that you "aced" a cognitive test. Another simple challenge in such testing is to recite the alphabet in reverse order. Please do that now.

• In fairness, people taking tests like these aren't being put on the spot in front of a national audience. Also, such questions do not give a complete picture of capability. So, to both of you: Please give us an example, with reasonable detail, of something you've done in office — but outside of public view — that demonstrates your critical judgment in a leadership role.

• Mr. Trump: Who won the 2020 election?

• Also for Mr. Trump: What would be your factors for considering this year's election contestable?

• President Biden: How will you respond if this year's election is contested, formally or otherwise?

Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Denise Johnson and John Rash. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly, Kavita Kumar and Elena Neuzil and intern Aurora Weirens also contribute, and Star Tribune CEO and Publisher Steve Grove serves as an adviser to the board.