Rudy Guiliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson--the four leading Republican candidates--all skipped a forum hosted by PBS talkshow host, Tavis Smiley that was held last night at Morgan State University. The forum was different from other GOP debates in that it focused on minority concerns, relied on a panel of minority reporters and commentators (Ray Saurez, Cynthia Tucker, Juan Williams), and was held in front of a largely minority audience. A similar forum for Democrats drew nearly every candidate, including all of the front runners.
The minority community holds diverse views. Some Republican policies should be attractive to conservative church-goers, business owners, and the rising middle and upper class, regardless of race. Other policy concerns, like homeland security and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, cut across all racial, ethnic, and class lines.
Even if the leading Republican candidates don't expect to get much minority support, they do have an obligation to communicate to all of the constituents that they might one day represent. They also should be willing to have their proposals, promises, and views scrutinized by different audiences. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with what happens when a chief executive won't leave his comfortable policy bubble.
By skipping the debate, the GOP front-runners missed a golden opportunity to deliver their message to and get feedback from a vital segment of the electorate. More than that, they sent the unmistakeable message that the minority community is simply not worth their time and that they don't have much to offer to that community.
The candidates' myopic strategy will ultimately limit their and the party's appeal. Should any of them win election, it will also limit their ability to govern.