Rand Paul is making the rounds of talk shows trying to dial back the media storm over his Civil Rights Act PR fiasco, and even dad Ron Paul has weighed in to defend him, arguing that liberals are jealous of his son’s political future. On Thursday Rand Paul told CNN he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, despite earlier saying he had misgivings about extending a ban on discrimination to private businesses. This morning he told George Stephanopoulos that the criticism over his comments were just "Democratic talking points" and “red herrings” by opponents trying to “trash” his campaign. “"When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory,” he complained to Stephanopoulos. He's even added another talking point to the media frenzy, criticizing President Obama's handling of the BP oil spill. "What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,' " Paul told Stephanopoulos. ''I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."
But does Paul stand a chance of dialing back what started as a media storm over whether he’s racist (and now so pro-business as to defend BP)? Dave Weigel thinks so, echoing—via Twitter—other apologists for Paul that the issue is not out-of-control racism; it’s plain, old-fashioned libertarianism. "Rand doesn't mean harm, is suffering as old libertarian debate moves into prime time," he tweeted.
Is the “L” word, not racism, going to fuel the debate from now on? It just might. Salon’s Gabriel Winant writes that the lesson of the Paul fiasco is simple: libertarianism is “juvenile.” “But, lest Paul be allowed to escape, those of us who do want to make something of this need to broaden our argument. It's not just that he screwed up and said something stupid because he's so committed to a purist fancy. No, it's worse than that. Libertarianism itself is what's stupid here, not just Paul. We should stop tiptoeing around this belief system like its adherents are the noble last remnants of a dying breed, still clinging to their ancient, proud ways.”
MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro gives a few examples of Rand’s attempts to dial back the disaster, including Paul's statement decrying racism and, of course, the repetition of the line that he would not repeal the Civil Rights Act, but also with a new twist: his dad’s weighing in with what Montanaro calls the “the ol' everyone's-jealous-of-you card." "Rep. Ron Paul said Thursday the criticism of his son Rand Paul’s comments regarding the 1964 Civil Rights Act is 'unfair' and dismissed the fracas as an attempt by the left to hurt his son’s Senate campaign. 'I think it’s contrived because he’s done so well, and the left has to knock him down,' the Texas Republican said." He added, "Politics can sometimes be nasty, and I think there is a lot of resentment because he all of a sudden became a star."
Despite concerns over racism in the Tea Party, that charge is not sticking to Paul. “So I take Paul at his word that he's not a racist,” writes Ezra Klein. “What he is, however, is an ideological extremist. He is so categorically opposed to public regulation of private enterprise that he cannot even bring himself to say that the Woolworth lunch counter should've been desegregated.”
Expect charges of political mudslinging to remain Rand Paul’s best shot at spin control. Given voter distrust of the media and the political establishment at large, and the popularity of railing against federal overreach, it might just work.