The leader of the national Republican Party said Sunday that he is “uncomfortable” with civil rights views held by GOP Senate hopeful Rand Paul of Kentucky but stopped short of condemning the outspoken candidate.
“I can’t condemn a person’s view,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The people of Kentucky will judge whether that’s a view that they would like to send to the Senate.”
Mr. Steele said that while he is “uncomfortable with a lot of things … it doesn’t matter what I’m comfortable with or not comfortable with. I don’t vote in that election.”
A day after cruising to victory Tuesday in the Republican Senate primary, Mr. Paul told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that, while he supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act in general, he thought some provisions banning discrimination in private businesses may have gone too far.
A day later, Mr. Paul began stepping back from those comments, saying in a written statement, “I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person.”
Mr. Steele, when asked on “Fox News Sunday” if Mr. Paul’s civil rights statements were wrong, answered that the candidate’s “philosophy is misplaced in these times.”
Mr. Paul “stands foursquare with the party on this issue, but he had a philosophical difference, as many members who come to Congress have different philosophies,” the chairman said. “But when you get [in Washington], what you do and how you execute the job is what matters.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, also appearing on the Sunday talk show, said Mr. Paul’s comments on civil rights and others he has made supporting limits to federal regulations will help make the traditionally Republican seat more competitive for Democrats in the November general election.
“Saying as Rand Paul did … that we needn’t be so worried about things like mining regulations, this is a very important role the government has: to protect the safety of the environment and the health of citizens,” Mr. Kaine said. “Rand Paul’s statements along these lines are very, very troubling.”
But Mr. Steele said he has spoken with Mr. Paul and is confident he is a good representative of the Republican Party.
“It’s important to understand that Rand Paul has clarified his statement and reiterated his support for … pushing civil rights forward,” Mr. Steele said. “Any attempt to look backwards is not in the best interest of our country, certainly, and certainly not in the best interest of the party.”
Mr. Steele added that Mr. Paul’s views on civil rights should be judged in context with the “philosophical position” held by libertarians, which Mr. Paul is.
“They have a very, very strong view about the limitations of government intrusion into the private sector,” he said. “That is a philosophical perspective.”
Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin defended Mr. Paul, saying on “Fox News Sunday” that he was “right in his clarifications about what he means in his interpretation of the impacts of the Civil Rights Act.”
Mrs. Palin, like Mr. Steele, declined to outright condemn Mr. Paul for his civil rights comments.
“Rand Paul is not a perfect, always-to-be-agreed-with candidate. Nobody is,” the former governor said. “But Rand Paul is a libertarian. He’s clear in his libertarian leanings.”
Mrs. Palin went on to say that Mr. Paul, during his interview with Ms. Maddow, had engaged in a”hypothetical discussion about constitutional impacts” with a “media personality who has an agenda.”
“You know, they’re looking for that ‘gotcha’ moment, and that’s what it evidently appears to be that they did with Rand Paul,” she said.