GOP Candidates Snub Black Debate
Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, has an editorial in today’s Washington Examiner excoriating the top Republicans for skipping the PBS debates with Tavis Smiley on issues of special importance to “people of color”.
This is not only a strategic mistake for these campaigns but also a major embarrassment for the Republican Party.
How can voters take seriously a candidate asking for their support to be leader of the free world when that same candidate is unwilling to take questions from black journalists, in front of a predominantly black audience?
The absence of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson from what has been, so far, the only nationally televised debate to focus solely on topics of interest of black Americans sends a very clear message that not only is the Republican Party not interested in courting the “black vote” but is not even willing to engage on issues of importance to African-Americans.
This goes beyond any one campaign. It is nothing less than a disgrace for the entire country. Is it any wonder that when Kanye West blurts out “President Bush hates black people” on national television that many black Americans nod their heads in agreement?
Newt Gingrich agrees:
“I’m puzzled by their decision. I can’t speak for them. I think it’s a mistake. I wish they would change their minds — they still have a few days — and I wish they would in fact go to the debate Thursday night,” said Gingrich, who is considering entering the race for the GOP nomination.
The top four candidates in the GOP race — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — all declined to participate in the forum citing scheduling conflicts and fundraising pressures. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and other longshot GOP candidates who have agreed to participate “deserve some praise for showing up and for carrying the message,” Gingrich said.
“I think Republicans could have, if they had the nerve to do it, a tremendous message,” Gingrich said. “There are a lot of good cases to be made that the African-American community has been hurt more by the failures of government than any other community.”
Like President Bush routinely snubbing the NAACP convention, this action undoubtedly reinforces the preexisting stereotypes about the Republican Party. On the other hand, it’s far from clear that showing up at these debates will do much to change those preconceptions. With the black leadership fully in the pocket of the Democratic Party and willing to run vicious smear attacks against Republican candidates, it’s not hard to see why the GOP frontrunners made the cost-benefit calculation they did.
That said, there’s something to the notion of at least making the effort to reach out. My guess is that doing so would have essentially no impact on the percentage of blacks voters choosing the Republican candidate next November. It might, though, help at the margins of dispelling the silly notion that Republicans don’t care about black people. Taking the opportunity to address these concerns head on, emphasizing that, contrary to John Edwards’ sales pitch, we’re all part of one America couldn’t hurt.
Regardless, citing “scheduling conflicts” is a rather lame way of excusing these snubs. The Democratic candidates all managed to fit it into their schedule with far less advanced notice; indeed, this date was selected after agreement of all the major Republican candidates (except perhaps Thompson, who wasn’t officially in the race at the time). It would have been far better to take the stand that they’re only going to debate American issues, not “hypenated American” issues. Simply rejecting the whole notion of segmenting the debates as if there are presidents of Gay America or Black America or White America would have been a far more courageous position — and one consistent with Republican principles.