After New York City Police Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were gunned down in a retaliatory ambush on Saturday afternoon, the collateral damage was immediate.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s relationship with the police went from horrible to horrendous. Rev. Al Sharpton’s campaign to cleanse his race-baiting past grew more difficult, and Sen. Rand Paul—who had gone out of his way to break bread with Sharpton and to criticize police militarization—may now be facing an even more difficult task as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination. Indeed, for Paul, the shooting may have turned his nascent 2016 campaign into the Paul family’s fourth quixotic presidential quest.
Even before the shootings, New York policeman were telling the Mayor not to attend their funerals. After the shooting, the police literally turned their backs on de Blasio during a press conference. New York’s Finest are feeling abandoned by City Hall. The killings will also cast a long shadow over the Democrats holding their 2016 Convention in Brooklyn (if they choose that venue) as the cops were killed just a few miles from the Barclays Center, which the Mayor has proposed as the convention site.
As for Sharpton, after leading the protests over Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner, he expressed his “outrage” over the deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu. Sharpton proclaimed that he had “stressed at every rally and march that anyone engaged in any violence is an enemy to the pursuit of justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown.”
Sharpton’s attempt to distance himself from the bloodshed however lacks credibility. This is the same Al Sharpton who championed Tawana Brawley’s 1987 rape hoax, and who in September 1995 referred to the Jewish owner of Freddy’s Fashion Mart as a “white interloper”—just three months just before the shop was burned down and seven people were killed.
But in the latest postmortem to Bonfire of the Vanities, the biggest political loser may be Kentucky’s junior senator. The Democrats’ upstairs-downstairs coalition will absolve de Blasio and Sharpton of any wrongdoing. After all, Rachel Noerdlinger, the former chief of staff to de Blasio’s wife, was a former senior Sharpton publicist whose live-in boyfriend had an “extensive” criminal record. However, the Republican base will be far less forgiving of Paul for his criticism of police policy and his courtship of Sharpton.
For half a century, the Republican Party has been the law and order party, and in the words of Eleanor Clift, my Daily Beast colleague, the relationship between the GOP and the police has been a love story. Looking back, in 1966, Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent California Governor Pat Brown after Brown looked weak in the face of student demonstrations and disruptions at U.C. Berkeley. Then, two years later, America elected Richard Nixon as president.
Nixon’s victory was driven by the public’s revulsion toward rioting, urban unrest, and the debacle that was the 1968 Democratic Convention. “Burn Baby Burn,” a cry heard in the inner city and birthed in the 1965 Watts riots, ultimately engendered fear and loathing amongst the voting classes—not sympathy. Fast forward to 1988, and history again repeated itself.
George H.W. Bush came roaring back from a 17-point deficit and defeated Mike Dukakis, the Massachusetts governor who gave weekend furloughs to convicted felons, and boasted of being a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Ironically, unlike Dukakis and apparently Paul, Bill Clinton and Al Gore had each “read the memo” back in the day.
As Arkansas’s governor, Clinton presided over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a convicted cop killer with an IQ under 70. During the 1988 Democratic presidential primary debates, Gore took Dukakis to task for being soft on crime and his furlough policy.
Paul’s flirtation with Sharpton is not just a matter of ignoring the past. Paul’s minuet is also a matter of disregarding what Republican voters are thinking in the here and now, the here and now being December 2014. The latest NBC/Marist and Pew Polls show the Republican rank and file squarely behind the police, and rightly or wrongly embracing the proposition that police treat blacks and whites alike.
Numbers speak for themselves. According to NBC/Marist Poll, 73 percent of Republicans have a great deal of confidence in the police doing a good job in enforcing the law, seven-in-10 Republicans believe that the police treat blacks and whites equally, and two-thirds disagree with President Obama’s reaction to the Ferguson and New York City grand juries’ decisions not to indict policemen. Pew reports that “Republicans widely support the Ferguson grand jury’s decision (76 percent right vs. 12 percent wrong).”
Against this backdrop, Paul breaking bread with Sharpton may be too much for Republican primary voters to watch or stomach. Unlike Barack Obama or MSNBC, the GOP hasn’t forgotten that it was Sharpton who proclaimed that Tawana had told the truth, or that Sharpton owes more than $4 million in back taxes.
Right now, Paul lags behind Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, and if Paul continues to buck the GOP over law-and-order his upside will remain limited. With the exception of New Hampshire, Paul has not demonstrated potential enthusiasm in the early primary states. He trails in Iowa and South Carolina.
Further, in the Super Tuesday states of Florida, Texas, and Virginia, Paul is operating at a decided disadvantage. Without a win in any of those three states Paul’s candidacy will be doomed. For Paul, the thrill of breakfast with the Reverend, may be giving way to the taste of burnt toast.