So Much For Rand Paul’s Minority Outreach

There’s an interesting Eli Stokels piece at Politico up today about Rand Paul’s less-than-sympathetic initial reaction to the trajectory of the Baltimore protests, which Team Paul folk are frantically suggesting was just a “gaffe,” even as most observers believe he’s bending to the inevitable pressures of running for president as a Republican:

On Tuesday, as Baltimore burned in the wake of the latest episode surrounding the alleged use of deadly excessive force, Paul’s response was notably off-key.
“I came through the train on Baltimore last night,” Paul told host Laura Ingraham. “I’m glad the train didn’t stop.”

The senator’s breezy response came just before he blamed the violent uprising there on “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society.” He also expressed his sympathy for “the plight of police,” all without speaking to the circumstances surrounding the troubling death of Freddie Gray in the custody of Baltimore Police.

His camp now acknowledges the lost chance.

“We recognize how it may have sounded to some people,” said Elroy Sailor, a senior adviser to Paul who has helped orchestrate more than two years of sustained outreach by Paul to the African-American community. “We’re listening and learning every day and we learned from this. We’re also leading this conversation.”

As if. Sailor’s implying that Paul “owns” the criminal justice reform debate. But even if you buy that, it doesn’t mean Paul is even on the same page as African-Americans when it comes to police reform, a parallel but hardly identical issue.

Stokels notes the Baltimore “gaffe” was by no mean unprecedented.

The day after his early April campaign launch, as attention focused on South Carolina — where a video showed a local police officer shoot an unarmed black man as he tried to flee — Paul took the stage in New Hampshire and said, “Today we sit atop a powder keg.”
He was talking, though, about the national debt.

Asked later that day about the shooting of Walter Scott — after he didn’t weigh in on his own — Paul steered clear of addressing the outrage from many African-Americans, instead noting that “98, 99 percent of police are are doing their job on a day-to-day basis and aren’t doing things like this.” The following day, at a campaign event just 20 miles from where Scott has been killed, Paul didn’t mention it at all.

You can he said/she said this thing to death, but in reality, Paul’s priorities right now are obvious. Nobody, I hope, seriously believes that a Rand Paul-led Republican Party is going to suddenly start attracting a large African-American vote. Perhaps his gestures could open the door to some future Republican leader making inroads, and maybe burnish his image among white swing voters. But Rand stands first and foremost for fiscal policies that would largely trash the social safety net and shirk the needs of urban communities, and for monetary policies that would likely plunge the country back into a major recession. He opposes absolutely every accomplishment of the Obama administration, with the possible partial exception of the opening to Cuba. And then there’s his own and his father’s history of association with racists and neo-Confederates.

So on the one hand you have a rather fantastic speculative future appeal to African-Americans, and on the other the present reality of a Republican nominating contest in which virtually no African-Americans are going to participate. What do you think matters most to Team Paul right now?

It’s true Paul’s alleged party-broadening powers are an important part of his electability argument to Republican voters, along with the idea that dope-smoking, NSA-hating kids will vote for him against HRC. But without any question, Republicans want the maximum of general election odds with the absolute minimum of compromise on issues–which is why Scott Walker’s Wisconsin record is so seductive to them. And with the foul odor of racial politics in the air, Paul will have to show his solidarity with conservative white voters appalled once again at the bad behavior of those people. If he doesn’t, I’ll be genuinely impressed, even as I downgrade Paul’s odds of winning the nomination another ten or twenty points.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.