Top GOP Candidates Skip PBS Debate

Last night at Morgan State University in Baltimore Maryland, some of the GOP presidential aspirants participated in yet another debate. Aired on PBS and hosted by Tavis Smiley, the debate was dubbed a “black issues debate” with its panelists all journalists of color addressing issues important to black voters.

Top tier candidates Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson did not participate citing scheduling conflicts, leaving the spotlight to underdog candidates Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and new entry Alan Keyes.

“What sets this debate apart from the others was it was the first ever in the black community with Republican candidates…that hadn’t happened before” Former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele told HUMAN EVENTS.

In the weeks leading up to the debate African American pundits accused leading GOP candidates of not caring about the black community for declining to attend. Tom Joyner (who opened up the discussion) took jabs at the candidates not in attendance.

“Let me take a moment right here and now to say hello to those of you viewing from home. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain, Governor Mitt Romney, and Senator Fred Thompson. Well, you know, I had to call them out,” said Joyner. “I can only assume that Republican candidates who hope to become the president of all the people are here tonight.”

Smiley condemned the GOP candidates not in attendance in his opening statement, “Some of the campaigns who declined our invitation to join us tonight have suggested publicly that this audience would be hostile and unreceptive,” said Smiley.

“Since we’re live on PBS right now, I can’t tell you what I really think of these kinds of comments.”

Empty podiums were left onstage to represent those who didn’t show up.

Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback chastised their competitors for not participating as well.

“I’m embarrassed for our party and I’m embarrassed for those who did not come, because there’s long been a divide in this country, and it doesn’t get better when we don’t show up,” said Huckebee.

“I apologize for the candidates that aren’t here. I think this is a disgrace that they’re not here…I think it’s a disgrace for our country, I think it’s bad for our party, and I don’t think it’s good for our future,” said Brownback.

Steele told HUMAN EVENTS that he doesn’t think their absence was bad for the GOP but would affect the campaign of those who did not attend.

“I don’t think it hurt the Republican Party, I think it hurts them, I had to correct a reporter last night because he said this was a black eye on the party, I said ‘no its not… we had six Republican candidates for president on the stage, the party showed up…’”

“Look, these guys want to be president of the United States and whether you like it or not, or whether you think that African American issues are a subset of national issues or not, the body of politics today requires that you show up and make the effort,” said Steele.

Cong. Ron Paul said that the main reason he was there because he was invited and Cong. Tom Tancredo took the opportunity to brag that he was the only Republican candidate that showed up for the NAACP convention.

Former Ambassador Alan Keyes said that he, “…wouldn’t want to seem to be the fellow who’s going to speak up in defense of our absent colleagues here, but I think it is a little unfair to assume that they didn’t show up tonight because they were sending a message of some negative kind to the black community.”

This week Newt Gingrich said he was puzzled by the leading candidate’s decision to not attend. “I can’t speak for them but I think it’s a mistake," said Gingrich.

The candidates debated issues ranging from minority unemployment rates to illegal immigration, heathcare for minorities, and the War on Terror.

Huckabee said that as president he would change the criminal justice system in order to leave a positive legacy for Black Americans. He would change it "so that you don’t have a different sentence for a 17-year-old kid caught with a lid of marijuana than you do some upper-middle-class white kid who gets caught with cocaine. He goes to rehab, and the Black kid goes to prison for 10 years,” said Huckabee

Brownback said he would continue to push for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington in order to leave a significant legacy for Black Americans.

Keyes said “I think the most important thing to remember is that our efforts in Iraq and elsewhere right now that followed in the wake of September 11 aren’t an effort to defend Black people, white people, Jewish people, Christian people, et cetera.”

“They’re an effort to defend the United States of America from a deep and terrible threat that came against us in disregard of the fundamental moral principle that is supposed to govern all international affairs, all wars that are conducted by countries, and that is that you do not consciously target innocent human life.”

Paul answered as usual that “the most important promise we keep is the oath to obey the Constitution. We just shouldn’t be going to all these wars.”

Hunter, Brownback, and Tancredo also stuck to their standard answers on issues that we have heard in the previous six Republican presidential debates. Relentless debating from both parties in the past months has worn out viewers and the Democratic debate that took place just two days ago had the lowest ratings yet. Ratings for last night’s debate are expected to be low as well.

Steele told us that he thought Mike Huckabee benefited the most from the debate. “You can kind of see that presidential air about him,” said Steele. “I haven’t picked anyone yet so this isn’t a Huckebee commercial… but as a party activist he has the potential to galvanize the party.”

“From what I was hearing in that room there were a number of African Americans who were impressed enough to say, “You know, I could consider him if he gets the nomination…I thought that was telling,” Steele said “because the majority of the African Americans in the room were Democrats.”

But what was lacking in this debate — like many that preceded it and too many to come after — was anything new, any breakthrough on positions or discussion that could really affect the Republicans’ choice of a nominee. Is it time to declare a moratorium on debates? At least until we — and the candidates — have something new to hear or say?