The first GOP primary debate on Thursday covered a lot of topics, but one was plainly absent from the evening. After a short-lived discussion of social justice themes, including a meaty debate over the recently released Planned Parenthood videos and the organization's government funding, both the candidates and the evening's hosts, Fox News' Brett Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace, failed to address the high profile #BlackLivesMatter movement, despite the topic serving as one of leading issues of the past 18 months. It seems black lives didn't matter at the GOP debate, and given the movement's continued relevance and the fresh frustration surrounding the deaths of black citizens like Samuel Dubose and Sandra Bland, it was a little more than distressing.
Even with a later prompt from Kelly, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson opted to embrace a dialogue that was encompassing of all races. "Our strength as a nation comes from our unity," said Carson, adding that the future depended on the country's ability to overcome its differences and work together to press forward on more important topics.
Immediately, Twitter weighed in on the misstep, with civil rights activist Deray McKesson tweeting,
Before the #GOPDebate began, didn't the moderators say that 8 million ppl were discussing "racial issues"? What happened to those questions?
A number of candidates besides Carson also made quick moves to avoid any direct confrontation on the issue, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declaring the problem lay solely with police training rather than any inherent, pre-existing racist tendencies among possible police recruits. "It’s about training. It’s about making sure that law enforcement officials" are equipped to handle the problems when confronted by them, said Walker, who then closed his statement without touching the prevailing cases being discussed by the public, and more importantly, prospective voters.
As several social media users pointed out, the obvious hesitance at an in-depth discussion on the #BlackLivesMatter movement was jarringly juxtaposed by a subsequent commercial for the upcoming film Straight Outta Compton — a biopic of the early hip-hop group N.W.A — aired immediately afterward by the Fox News network. "The Straight Outta Compton commercial was longer than the answer about #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality," quipped one Twitter user, unhappy with the lack of candidate discourse. Other Twitter users agreed, voicing their own unease with the topic dodge. "The #1 issue on social media as well as most media outlets are police brutality and #BlackLivesMatter," tweeted one user. "Those issues got 30 [seconds] total."
If GOP candidates were truly looking for a way to connect with the average American on Thursday evening, they certainly missed out on a golden opportunity. And with the scramble to redefine the party as a contemporary version of itself, it was one mistake they simply couldn't afford.