By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Thank God it’s Friday. It’s been a cringe-worthy few days for Republicans. As my middleschooler would call it: “awk!” (As in “awk-ward!”) As in Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul when he went on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show the day after his primary win, and was less than clear about whether he actually supported the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed segregation.
Politico called the interview “walking into the lion’s den wrapped in red meat.” No good candidate would have answered that question in anything but clear terms; no good staffer would have let his quirky, new-to-politics boss go on ultra-liberal Rachel Maddow’s show the first day after winning one of the most-watched Republican primaries in the country. (You would say it was a freshman mistake, but he may not even get to be a freshman after this.)
Republicans everywhere who were still celebrating his landslide victory stopped suddenly, recoiling in horror. For Democrats it was a dream come true: a way to get away from the small-government fiscal-responsibility platform that Paul won on--and divert attention from the Richard Blumenthal train wreck in Connecticut--and instead zoom in on labeling Republicans as extremists on race. Thankfully, Paul has spent the time since the interview making it very clear that he would have voted yes for the Civil Rights Act, as well as the Fair Housing Act, and it looks like the controversy is behind him, at least for now.
The lesson here is that Republicans win when they talk about reducing the deficit, reining in federal spending, and limiting the size and scope of government. When they get out of the mainstream on social issues, all hell breaks loose. Rand Paul should stick to the winning campaign strategy of Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown: keep the attention on fiscal restraint, and stay away from hot-button social issues. He needs to reassure people that he is not an extremist on race, and neither are most members of the Party of Lincoln. It’s one thing to be kind of an off-beat libertarian; it’s another to be ambivalent about something as important as the equal rights of all Americans. Hopefully he’s gotten that message across.
If Rand Paul can stay disciplined for the rest of the campaign, I think he’ll probably still win in the fall. My advice in the meantime: If Keith Olbermann calls, just say no.