If you believe that Republicans sincerely want to unite America and challenge all voters, including their own, to think about hard choices, then I guess this Broderesque Slate column by John Dickerson makes sense:
Will a potential Republican presidential candidate give a speech about the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri? It would be a political opportunity, a chance to prove that he is precisely the type of leader the likely 2016 candidates will claim to be.Why would any Republican want to do this? These guys want to win primaries -- and the way to do that is by not speaking across the divide. Rand Paul is an exception to some extent (I'll get to him later), and a couple of the potential candidates (Christie, Bush) take a little pride in cross-party appeal (which is hurting them in the Republican polls) -- but the real goal for each candidate is to profess a pure Republicanism and show that non-Republicans will respond to it with enthusiasm or, more likely, acquiescence. ("I backed the enemy down in three elections" is basically Scott Walker's message.) The candidates are hoping to do this while not actively offending swing voters, but that's not the same as outreach to swing voters. (GOP primary voters think non-Republican voters are stupid parasites. They don't want a candidate who reaches out to us.)
In the GOP jockeying for position, every public flashpoint provides a chance for a candidate to distinguish himself in a crowded field.... If the speech is good enough, perhaps a friendly columnist would say that he looked "presidential in addressing the complex issues of the day." Meanwhile, loyal aides could call reporters and say the speech demonstrated that the candidate had shown he was the unique figure to expand the Republican Party’s appeal....
The first thing we'd learn is if a candidate can speak across the divide.... No one expects a candidate to have the solutions, he simply needs to show he is sensitive to the challenge....
Rand Paul, admittedly, has written a couple of op-eds on Ferguson for Time, in which he's said things that don't seem typically Republican. We'll see how that works out. In the first one, he denounced the militarization of police -- a line of attack that seems unusual for a Republican, but actually fits well into the conservatarian narrative of an out-of-control Big Government police state. Paul's second Time op-ed denounced the War on Drugs (a concern shared by a small but significant sliver of libertarian-leaning right-wingers), then blamed the War on Poverty for ongoing problems in poor black (and white) communities.
If you're a Republican presidential aspirant, you can't do much more tacking toward the center than that, and even that may be too much. You can't acknowledge the continued existence of white racism at all (your voter base thinks that white racism is a problem solved long ago, and that only people who accuse whites of racism are racist). All you can say is that Big Government is the problem. Every Republican believes that, at least with regard to the programs of the social safety net. Rand Paul believes it with regard to police militarization and the drug war (but he's saying that government is drunk on government power, not that government is racist). Beyond that, Republicans have nothing else to say on Ferguson that would constitute outreach.
Dickerson's conclusion is this:
Of course, a potential GOP presidential candidate might choose an entirely different path. Instead of offering an example of bridge building, he might decide that the requirement after Ferguson is to defend the police force against a media that has convicted an officer trying to do his job in a brutal environment and speak up for the 61 percent of Republicans who in August thought race was getting more attention than it deserved, according to a Pew poll. Whichever route a candidate takes, such a speech would certainly distinguish him, and almost every future candidate wants that right now.But no Republican is going to make that speech. They're certainly not going to make it in Ferguson. (Even Rand Paul doesn't have the nerve to turn his op-eds into Ferguson speech, presumably because his denunciation of the War on Poverty is really just a tweaking of the standard Republican "blacks are slaves on the liberal plantation" message.)
Republicans now understand that they need to keep the divisive rhetoric under wraps; if they do this, the mainstream media will depict them as moderates. So they're going to say nothing.