By Jordan Fabian - 05/20/10 08:39 PM EDT
Controversial comments made by Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul (R)
resulted in a flurry of e-mails from Democrats bashing the Tea Party
favorite and had Republicans tight-lipped on their nominee.
And observers said it showed the eye doctor’s political inexperience.
Paul, the son of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), appeared on
MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” Wednesday night and was asked about his
stance on desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Republican nominee said he opposes racial discrimination but
questioned the federal government’s authority to enforce
anti-discrimination laws on private businesses.
“Well, what it gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are
publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should
have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the
owner of the restaurant says, ‘Well, no, we don’t want to have guns in
here,’ the bar says, ‘We don’t want to have guns in here because people
might drink and start fighting and shoot each other’?” he said. “Does
the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government
own his restaurant?”
Paul later issued a statement saying he does not support repealing the Civil Rights Act.
“Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious
people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political
points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to
repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” he said.
In an appearance on the conservative Laura Ingraham radio show
Thursday, Paul said his comments came as a result of being on Maddow’s
show, which is considered liberal.
“It was a poor political decision and probably won’t be happening anytime in the near future,” he told Ingraham.
Democrats pounced on Paul’s comments Thursday, using them to argue
that Paul is too far right politically and outside the mainstream to serve in the
The Democratic National Committee sent out nearly 30 e-mails to the
media bashing Paul and used his comments to take shots at the Tea Party
movement, which supported Paul’s primary bid over that of Kentucky
Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the GOP establishment favorite.
“No matter how he tries to spin to the contrary, the fact is that
Paul’s ideology has dangerous consequences for working families,
veterans, students, the disabled and those without a voice in the halls
of power,” his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, said in a statement.
“He is focused on the Tea Party whereas I am running to be a senator
for all the people of Kentucky, who are really hurting right now.”
Republicans in Washington, meanwhile, were reluctant to come to Paul’s defense, despite the fact he could boost their ranks.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of Paul’s earliest backers, told the
liberal blog Think Progress he is going “to talk to Rand about his
positions,” adding that he himself supports the Civil Rights Act.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who backed Grayson
over Paul in the primary, released a statement saying that he supports
the Civil Rights Act and was pleased with Paul’s clarification.
“Among Sen. McConnell’s most vivid memories and most formative
events in his career was watching his boss Sen. John Sherman Cooper
help pull together the votes to break the filibuster and pass the Civil
Rights Act of 1964,” spokesman Don Stewart said in a statement. “He has
always considered the law a monumental achievement for the country and
is glad to hear Dr. Paul supports it as well.”
During a campaign debate Paul said, if elected, he may not vote for McConnell for minority leader.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said
that Paul should have the opportunity to answer the question.
“I think it’s the day after he was nominated and all candidates have
questions to answer and he’ll have to answer his own questions,”
Alexander told reporters at the Capitol. “I am not going to start
taking stands on all Senate races around the country. I supported the
Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Even though Alexander would not comment on Paul’s remarks, he said
he thinks “Rand Paul would be an excellent candidate for the United
States Senate and [I] hope he gets elected.”
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was more tight-lipped than his
colleagues, saying “I haven’t heard what he said and I don’t want
to let you paraphrase it.”
Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook
Political Report, said that Paul’s comments underline his political
“Oh, absolutely. I think one, it’s his political inexperience and
two, you know, this isn’t necessarily different than the things Rand
Paul talks about and aren’t getting noticed.”
Duffy pointed to outside-the-mainstream comments Paul made that were
highlighted by Grayson’s campaign but did not stick with voters, such
as advocating term limits but refusing to sign a pledge, and saying he
wants to send Guantánamo Bay detainees back to their home countries.
She also said that his decision to hold his victory party Tuesday at
a members-only country club was another example of his inexperience.
She expects that Democrats will look to push Paul’s comments and actions to drive home their argument that he is extreme.
“One of the things Democrats understand about this race is that Paul
came into it as a relatively unknown entity,” she said. “Their job is
to define him and to do it quickly, and he’s provided them some help in
the last 24 hours.”
Duffy said there is too much time remaining before the election to
say how it will affect Paul’s candidacy, but did say, “I wouldn’t be
surprised if around the general … you see this resurface in mail to
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is African-American
and grew up in the segregationist South, said on MSNBC Thursday that he
was “absolutely appalled” by Paul’s comments and called on him to “come
clean with the American people and let us know exactly what he intends
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his press briefing Thursday that Paul’s comments have no place in the political dialogue.
Gibbs said that he had not seen the entire interview, but that it is
another telling sign the GOP is narrowing its party to the extreme.
Michael O’Brien, Eric Zimmermann and Sam Youngman contributed to this story.