Senator Rand Paul set off a firestorm of media commentary when he told the New York Times on Friday, May 13, 2014, that his fellow Republicans are “offending people” by their stance on the Voter ID issue.
What Paul Told the Times
According to the Times, Rand Paul, the Senator from Kentucky, said in an interview that ““Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing. I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”
Reaching Out to Minority Voters
Paul, who was in Memphis for a meeting of the Republican National Committee when he spoke to the Times, met with a group of black pastors. The Senator has often been outspoken about the need for the Republican party to reach out to minority voters. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, reported that in February, at a meeting of a county Republican organization in Texas, Paul said, “We have to welcome people of all races… We need a more diverse party. We need a party that looks like America.”
Paul’s statements to the Times appear to put him at odds with other conservative Republicans who believe that Voter ID laws are necessary to prevent fraud at the polls. Some see Paul as aligning himself with Democrats who believe that Voter ID laws are disenfranchising black voters.
What Did Paul Really Mean?
A few days after the Times article was published, the head of Paul’s political action committee sent a statement to Slate that put Paul’s remarks in a larger context and said Paul only meant to say that voter fraud should not be a “defining issue” for the Republican party. “At no point,” the statement said, “did Senator Paul come out against voter ID laws. In terms of the specifics of voter ID laws, Senator Paul believes it’s up to each state to decide that type of issue.”
World Net Daily called the whole controversy “bogus.”
Are Voter ID Laws Really Discriminatory?
While recent court cases have come down on both sides of the question, conservatives believe that Voting ID laws protect the rights of all voters, including those of black and other minority voters. The conservative daily publication American Thinker said that making sure the vote is valid is more important than the Republican Party’s outreach to minorities The American Thinker had several suggestions for Paul:
Educate voters: Paul should explain to the public the value of Voter ID laws, including their value to minorities, who deserve as much protection at the polls as anyone else.
Stop calling other Republicans “crazy”: This kind of rhetoric hurts the party as a whole.
It remains to be seen whether Paul’s statements to the Times will help or hurt him at the polls. At this point, though, it doesn’t look good for Paul. He may not have gained votes with minority voters, who are still unlikely to embrace him, while he may have lost some votes with conservative Republicans. In his haste to avoid offending some voters, he may have offended others.