What is it, exactly, that the Republican presidential hopefuls are thinking? The NAACP invited all the GOP aspirants to address its convention in July. Only Rep. Tom Tancredo showed up.
Last month, Univision invited the GOP contenders to participate in a debate on the Spanish language network. Only Sen. John McCain had the fortitude to participate.
Last week, Tavis Smiley hosted a presidential debate on PBS that focused on issues of concern to minority communities. Organizers issued invitations to the entire Republican field months in advance. The lecterns for McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson stood empty at Morgan State University, a historically black university in Baltimore.
It's one thing for the Democratic contenders to cower to left-wing agitators and refuse to participate in a debate on Fox News. It's what you'd expect from this group: petty, unprincipled and spineless.
And it gives Republicans an effective talking point for 2008. If the nominee of the Democratic Party is too frail to go into enemy territory and face Brit Hume or Juan Williams, how can they be expected to deal with the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations or Hugo Chávez at the Organization of American States?
But do the Republicans really believe an NAACP convention is enemy territory? Are they too timid to take on Tavis Smiley? Has the nativist element become so powerful in the Republican Party that appearing on Spanish language television is now the kiss of death?
Those are the talking points the Republican nominee has ceded to the Democrats. And it's not as though they were hurting for any.
The all-male, monochromatic and mostly mature GOP team already plays to stereotypes about Republican country club exclusivity. Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, observed that Romney looks "like someone who's stepped from the shower and been handed a dress shirt by his manservant George." At least he's not, like some of his competitors, humorless.
Those are issues of perception. The dangerous reality is that the Republican Party is writing off minority voters and, in the process, undoing more than two decades of effort and progress.
In 2005, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman did go to the NAACP convention. He didn't just talk. He apologized for Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" in 1968 that took political advantage of racial polarization. In 2007, the front-runners for the GOP nomination can't be bothered to make an appearance.
It doesn't matter that Republican presidential candidates rarely obtain more than 10 percent of the black vote. Addressing a black audience somewhere, sometime is the right thing to do for someone who wants to be president for all the United States.
Would it really have been that difficult for John McCain to go to Detroit and tell the NAACP, "You have been almost wholly in thrall of the Democratic Party and its social programs that breed dependence on government, and it has not availed you. Four decades after the Great Society, the ills it was intended to remedy still plague the African American community. I offer you an alternative."
Was it too much for Rudy Giuliani to go to Miami and say, "This nation of immigrants has nothing to fear from a new generation of citizens who hail from Latin America, just as it had nothing to fear from the Italian, Irish, Jewish, Polish and German immigrants who came before them. But our national security and respect for the law demand that they come to this country lawfully, as their predecessors did."
The dismissive attitude toward Hispanic voters is particularly incomprehensible. George W. Bush polled more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, a key reason he prevailed in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, each of which was critical for an Electoral College victory.
The Republican contenders, save McCain, don't seem to care. Neither will Hispanic voters come next November.