Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate in Houston gives viewers a chance to see all the leading contenders on the same stage for the first time. Here are four questions that should be asked, one for each of the top candidates.

Joe Biden: Why exactly should you be the next president?

The former vice president’s campaign has curiously failed to even try to seriously answer this query. His campaign’s appeals to the need for national unity after a divisive figure like President Trump don’t even come close. Yes, Democrats can ask, Trump is awful and we need to reject the racialism behind Charlottesville, but why are you the man to do that? So far, Joltin’ Joe has not hit a home run.

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Biden’s inability to present his unique virtues to become leader of the free world is compounded by his indistinct philosophy. Biden’s ideology is neither the fish of progressivism nor the fowl of moderation. Instead, he seems to be following his traditional path of conveniently being at the middle point of the Democratic Party at any point in time. Many Democrats do not want someone with the courage of your, not his, convictions.

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Sen. Edward Kennedy’s spectacular failure to answer a similar question in 1979 sent the putative front-runner into a tailspin from which he never recovered. Biden must have a clear and convincing answer to this question if he wants to avoid Kennedy’s fate.

Bernie Sanders: Why should the Democratic Party nominate someone who is a proud socialist and not even a Democrat?

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The philosophy of the senator from Vermont has gained so many adherents within the party so quickly that we often forget that even now he is not part of the party he seeks to lead (he has served in Congress as an independent for 28 years). Even Donald Trump had the decency to at least register as a Republican when he ran for that party’s nomination. Is the Democratic Party so bereft of its own ideas and leaders that it needs to adopt the red cloak of socialism as its own?

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There’s also the nagging problem that Sanders’s ideas are unpopular with voters outside his cultish clique. A July Post/ABC News poll found Trump ahead by six points against “a Democratic candidate who you regard as a socialist.” Sanders won’t just be perceived to be a socialist; he’ll proudly tell you he is one. Sanders is unlikely to become the nominee unless he can quell the sense among many Democrats that he’s just not one of them.

Elizabeth Warren: Why do polls show you doing so poorly among Democratic moderates and running behind President Trump in most swing states, and what can you do to turn that around?

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Warren has risen to the top tier solely on the basis of support from the party’s left flank. Virtually every poll shows the senator from Massachusetts does much better among the party’s liberals than its moderates, and those polls that separate “liberals” from “very liberals” show her appeal to be even more limited. This shortfall also shows up in trial heats against Trump. She trails or is even in every key swing state Democrats need to win, making her by far the weakest candidate among the top three.

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Only a minority of Democrats wants a candidate who is closest to them on the issues; a majority want someone who can beat Trump. In the 2004 race, former Vermont governor Howard Dean rose to prominence by courting what he called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” — i.e., the left. But much of that standing melted away when it actually came time to cast a real vote. Democrats who loved his rhetoric decided they needed a standard-bearer who wouldn’t scare away swing voters. They “dated Dean” but “married Kerry.” Warren needs to answer this question or run the risk that voters next year will make the same choice.

Kamala Harris: Are you actually much more liberal than you let on?

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Harris frequently makes a very liberal remark only to walk it back days later. The senator from California has softened her stance on a couple of issues, such as expressing support for abolishing private health insurance or mandating busing to address school segregation. She has also recently shown her contempt for Trump, laughing after a man attending one of her town halls referred to Trump as “mentally retarded,” which she later apologized for.

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This question is more of a rhetorical one: If she really is more liberal than she lets on, her lack of control means she’ll commit gaffes on a regular basis if she’s the nominee. And no one is better at exploiting his opponent’s unforced errors than Trump.

These questions probably won’t actually be asked by the moderators. But they remain the underlying questions each of the front-runners need to address before the early states votes. Fail to do that, and people such as Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker will be there to pick up the pieces of a broken campaign.

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