Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), the 2010-vintage Tea Party insurgent who is now considering a 2016 presidential bid, told an audience Wednesday at the historically black Howard University that the Republican Party is still the party of civil rights, and that black voters should look at the substance of Republican ideas and how they would help everyone, rather than accepting the “caricature” of the party described by Democrats.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney overwhelmingly lost black voters in November, prompting an effort on the part of Republicans to reach out to minorities.
Paul acknowledged that he was in potentially unfriendly territory.
“Some people have asked if I’m nervous about speaking at Howard. They say ‘You know, some of the students and faculty may be Democrats,’” Paul joked at the start of the speech.
But, he said, “My hope is that you will hear me out, that you will see me for who I am, not the caricature sometimes presented by political opponents.”
Republicans, he said, are not the party of rich white men that they have been portrayed to be.
“No Republican questions or disputes civil rights. I have never waivered in my support for civil rights or the civil rights act,” he said.
“What gets lost, is that the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights. Because Republicans believe that the federal government is limited in its functions, some have concluded that Republicans are somehow inherently insensitive to minority rights. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Paul told the audience.
“Republicans do, indeed, still believe many rights remain with the people and states respectively,” Paul continued. “When some people hear that, they tune us out and say, ‘he’s just using code words for the state’s right to discriminate, for the state’s right to segregate and abuse.’ But that’s simply not true.”
Rather, he argued, “government is more efficient, more just, and more personal when it is smaller and more local.”
He also contended that while the benefits of Democratic economic philosophies that promote “unlimited federal assistance” might be more “tangible” in the immediate term, Republican policies of “equalizing opportunity through free markets” would ultimately be more helpful in creating jobs and economic growth.
He also discussed his support for school choice and easing the punishments for drug offenders.
Paul argued that there is continuity between the Republican Party of the past, which elected the first black U.S. Senator and founded the NAACP and the Republican party of today.
“The Republican Party’s history is rich and chock full of emancipation and black history. Republicans still prize the sense of justice that MLK spoke of when he said that ‘an unjust law is any law the majority enforces on a minority but does not make binding upon itself. Republicans have never stopped believing that minorities, whether they derive from the color of their skin or shade of their ideology should warrant equal protection,” he said.
The audience did not appear to be fully won over by this argument. In a question and answer period with the audience after the speech, one person asked Paul which Republican Party it was that he identified with and was discussing – the pre-1960 Republican Party, or the current day GOP.
“The argument that I’m trying to make is we haven’t changed,” Paul said. “We don’t talk about it. I’m either gonna convince you or not, but my argument is there are some of us who haven’t changed, who are still part of the party that you liked, but there are part of us who truly belive Reagan was part of that.”
One student asked about voting rights, wondering how he could say he was in favor of voting rights when he supported voter ID laws.
“I think if you liken using a license to using a literacy test, you demean the horror of” what happened during the Jim Crow era, Paul responded.