If Dems and Republicans are at odds over everything from Iraq to healthcare, there's one thing that has brought many of them together: shared criticism of the leading GOP presidential contenders for their decision to skip the recent debate moderated by Tavis Smiley, billed as oriented to the concerns of black Americans.
But beginning on yesterday's "Meet the Press" and continuing on today's "Morning Joe," Pat Buchanan has not hesitated to make a pragmatic political case in defense of the Republican candidates' decision. And alone, at least among pundits I've heard, he drew an interesting parallel to the venues the leading Dem candidate is skipping.
View video here.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: So yesterday, you and Tavis Smiley got into a little dust-up because people like me have been saying that Republicans should have shown up at the debate. Tavis was talking about how bad it was that Republicans stayed away, and you said "eh, makes sense to me that they're not going." Why?
PAT BUCHANAN: The timing of it is one thing. We're 13 weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, and the guys that don't do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, they're going home for good, and the whole effort all the year is going down the tubes. African-Americans vote basically 90% Democratic, and there're very few of them in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are going to be the decisive states. So I say you go hunting where the ducks are; they're in Iowa and New Hampshire and frankly they're not at Morgan State [the historically black college in Baltimore where the Smiley debate was held]. The time, if you're going to make an appeal across the lines to Hispanics and African-Americans, first, with African-Americans, I would go through the churches rather than that debate routine over there. And secondly, you do that in the general election, and you don't get to the general election unless you get to Iowa and New Hampshire under your belt and you do well there.
So I can understand why a scheduler would say something like to Rudy Giuliani, "you know Mr. Mayor, do you really want to go down there and get hammered over why you were insensitive when those cops put 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo? You know, is that really what you want to be talking about and have on news bites for the next week?"
SCARBOROUGH: But Pat, doesn't it make sense at some point, though, to embrace a group of people that may only make up 10, 11 or 12% of the population but who vote against you 95% to 5%? At some point you need to step forward.
BUCHANAN: Let me tell you, Joe, what's happened to us since the Goldwater era, and it was after Johnson came out for civil rights and Goldwater voted against the bill, the only guy that did, Nixon did 18%, but that was in the gigantic landslide of 1972. I agree, you gotta reach out to the African-American community, and as it grows more affluent, and as it moves away from the civil rights area, you've got a real opportunity, I think, to increase your vote. And all you gotta do is increase it to 20% and that would be an enormous help. But my point is, this is not the time to do it. At this point, again, if Rudy gets beat in Iowa and New Hampshire, he's got real trouble. His one line down there is South Carolina, and the African-Americans are all in the Obama-Hillary race; that's where they're going.
Pat concluded on an interesting note, drawing a parallel I haven't heard any other pundit make:
So again, I don't see what point. It's like Hillary going down to [the late Jerry Falwell's] Liberty Baptist University or speaking to a right-to-life convention or an NRA convention. That's not what she's going to do now.
My Take: I'd say Pat is giving solid campaign-consultant advice. Note how he puts the cautionary words to Rudy about getting into the Diallo issue into the mouth of an imaginary campaign scheduler. But sometimes candidates need to rise above the cautious counsel of their advisors and do what is bold and what is right. I sense this would have been one of those times.