Newly minted GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul has already stepped into his first crisis of the campaign, only one day after winning the Kentucky primary. Comments he made about federal civil-rights legislation and segregation during two interviews with national media outlets have earned Paul a barrage of criticism.
During an interview with NPR, Paul, a Tea Party favorite and the son of Rep. Ron Paul, was discussing his belief that many issues shouldn't be handled by the federal government and ought to be handled locally—Paul has in the past criticized the Americans With Disabilities Act as an example of government overreach. Paul was adamant that he supported equal rights and said he hoped he would have had the courage to march with Martin Luther King. But host Robert Siegel pushed him further, and Paul hedged:
SIEGEL: But it's been one of the major developments in American history in the course of your life. I mean, do you think the '64 Civil Rights Act or the ADA, for that matter, were just overreaches and that business shouldn't be bothered by people with the basis in law to sue them for redress?
PAUL: Right. I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think that we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that. I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who's handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to the solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.
Later that evening, on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, Paul explained further that he didn't like the idea of the government interfering in private business, on the principle that an establishment that espoused racism would be penalized by the market.
MADDOW: How about desegregating lunch counters?
PAUL: 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." Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion.
Left-leaning pundits are already calling for Paul's head this morning. NBC's Joe Scarborough also bashed him on his morning show and on Twitter. The Washington Post's Dave Weigel, who covers conservative politics, says Paul is at least being honest about his views: "So is Rand Paul a racist? No . . . Paul believes, as many conservatives believe, that the government should ban bias in all of its institutions but cannot intervene in the policies of private businesses." Paul, meanwhile, doubled down on his comments in an interview with conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham this morning.
This isn't the first time that Paul has made comments along these lines, but the spotlight on Paul as Senate nominee and Tea Party standard bearer is now much brighter than it was when he was an upstart underdog challenger for the Republican nomination. As I wrote yesterday, not all conservatives are pleased with Paul, who's got a tight race ahead of him. This furor won't help.