But here's the worst part: Thursday's debate will include a carnival barker who grabs headlines by throwing racial bombshells. But it will exclude a former governor who is demonstrating that conservative principles can reach across racial and party lines.
To be sure: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not my cup of tea, personally. After all, his main economic achievement is a flood of low-wage jobs
not fit to support a family. His approach to detaining immigrants
, especially children, in poor conditions in private prisons has been callous and unconscionable. I could go on.
But compared to Donald Trump, Perry is a titan of tolerance and inclusion. And Perry's actual good works deserve a fuller hearing and a bigger platform.
Instead, we will hear more bloviating from the ubiquitous Trump. This is a man who kicked off his campaign with a speech declaring that Mexican immigrants
are drug pushers and rapists, has relied on racist tropes to attack President Obama's faith and birthplace, and blamed recent urban unrest
on the President "inciting violence." Nonetheless, Trump declaims that "I have a great relationship with the blacks" and insists he will win the African-American vote. Not going to happen.
But here's something that may help Republicans make headway with black voters: actually addressing our concerns.
One major concern
is the out-of-control incarceration industry, which locks up massive numbers of black youths out of proportion to their numbers or even their crimes.
And when it comes to reforming the system, Perry has said the right things, backed his words up with action and has been willing to reach across the aisle.
"You want to talk about real conservative governance?" he commented
at last year's Conservative Political Action Conference. "Shut prisons down. Save that money." He has spoken at length about cruel and unnecessary mandatory minimums and has embraced drug courts.
He even submitted a video message
to the Bipartisan Summit
on Criminal Justice Reform. (Full disclosure: Newt Gingrich's organization
co-sponsored that event in March.)
His reforms lowered crime rates and incarceration rates
at the same time, saving the state money. Under his leadership, Texas was actually able to close three prisons.
Perry is not alone. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, both Republicans, have also made headway.
For years, right-wing activists like Pat Nolan, Marc Levin and Right on Crime have been building up conservative momentum
for smart policies that reduce incarceration, recidivism and cost while keeping us safe.
In my view, Republican debate organizers should have the sense to realize that excluding voices like Perry's and including Trump's does voters of all parties a disservice.
I hope for all of our sakes that we hear a lot more from leaders like Perry moving forward -- and a whole lot less from bomb throwers like Donald Trump.