In examining Rand Paul’s comments, in which he argues against key parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen makes a valid suggestion:
"In the larger context, I also suppose it's time to start asking Republican leaders across the country a straightforward question: 'Your party's Senate candidate in Kentucky has a problem with the Civil Rights Act. Do you think he's right or wrong?' "
So far, however, there has mostly been a resounding silence in conservative circles. It’s still early days of course, but just now that silence has been broken by John Stossel of Fox Business News, interviewed by Fox anchor Megyn Kelly. Stossel says he "totally agrees" with Paul, arguing that private groups and businesses should have the right of free association and that most private businesses would have allowed black patrons into their establishments had they been free to do so. “It was the government that made businesses not serve blacks,” argued Stossel. He said he does not condone racism but that private organizations have a right to their opinions. “Are you going to tell the black student association they should accept white students?” he asked Kelly. “It’s time to repeal that part of the law,” Stossel said. When it comes to private business, for better or worse, he argued, “it should be their right to be racist.” (You can watch Stossel's comments above, or here, from Media Matters.)
Conservative commentator Bruce Bartlett had earlier today, bravely, ventured into the mix.
“I don't believe Rand is a racist; I think he is a fool who is suffering from the foolish-consistency syndrome that affects all libertarians. They believe that freedom consists of one thing and one thing only—freedom from governmental constraint. Therefore, it is illogical to them that any increase in government power could ever expand freedom. Yet it is clear that African Americans were far from free in 1964 and that the Civil Rights Act greatly expanded their freedom while diminishing that of racists. To defend the rights of racists to discriminate is reprehensible and especially so when it is done by a major party nominee for the U.S. Senate. I believe that Rand should admit that he was wrong as quickly as possible.”
On the Laura Ingraham show this morning, Paul said he regretted appearing on Rachel Maddow’s show discussing the Civil Rights Act. Sam Stein transcribed some of Paul’s comments for the Huffington Post: "These are settled issues in the Civil Rights Act," he [Paul] said. "I have no intention of bringing up anything related to the Civil Rights Act...I think [segregation] is sort of a stain and blight on our history—so, no, I have never really favored any change in the Civil Rights Act or any of that. But they have seemed to unleash the loony left on me."
If the “loony left” has been unleashed, the rational right hasn’t exactly come to Paul’s aid. The National Review’s The Corner has one effort by Daniel Foster explaining that "Paul Calls Maddow Appearance ‘Mistake,’ Civil Rights ‘Settled’" but there are few ringing endorsements of Paul's comments to found anywhere.
But the Republican political establishment is, so far, mostly tight-lipped. Here’s one exception: Politico’s Ben Smith reports on what he calls “a frosty statement from Sen. Mitch McConnell's spokesman Don Stewart” in support of Paul. “Among Senator McConnell's most vivid memories and most formative events in his career was watching his boss Sen. John Sherman Cooper help pull together the votes to break the filibuster and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He has always considered the law a monumental achievement for the country and is glad to hear Dr. Paul supports it as well."