Dump Donald Trump and let Rick Perry debate

Story highlights

  • Van Jones: Republicans are wrong to include Donald Trump and exclude Rick Perry in debate
  • He says Trump is a bloviator who invoked racist and anti-immigrant tropes, and Perry deserves to be taken seriously

Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America's economy. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. A best-selling author, he is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The process of winnowing candidates to participate in the Republican primary debate is deserving of all the ridicule thrown its way.

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.
Van Jones
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.
    Perry on Trump: Let's 'see who can do the most pull-ups'
    rick perry donald trump pull up challenge_00002406


      Perry on Trump: Let's 'see who can do the most pull-ups'


    Perry on Trump: Let's 'see who can do the most pull-ups' 00:47
    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 and mine 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.