Paul Lewis, questioning Paul for The Guardian, asked him whether his call for racial equality in the criminal justice system can appeal to the white voters of the Republican Party. Paul seemed impatient while answering the question, then terminated the discussion. From the Talking Points Memo transcript:
PL: One more question. Sorry, sometimes we have to be a bit forceful. When you stand for Presdient, you get pressed on questions and you understand that. Last question's about campaign strategy. You gave that speech in that hall and you got a lot of enthusiastic response from people that care about criminal justice. Young people do, Democrats do, liberals do. You're standing for the Republican nomination. All the research shows that Republicans -- white Republicans who're going to determine the outcome of this race -- don't think that the criminal law is applied in an unfair way. So how are you going to win the nomination with this --Lewis then began a follow-up question: "Washington Post/ABC poll last week said two in three --" It was too late. Paul walked away, and then the lights were cut off.
RP: I think that's incorrect. I think your premise is incorrect. Actually, I think that I can take that message into a white evangelical church anywhere in Iowa and give exactly the same speech and be received well.
Was it really another moment of Rand Paul petulance? It seemed that way at first, but it was later noted (by the interviewer as well as the interviewee) that the lights were cut off by a CNN producer, not by the Paul campaign. And it was noted elsewhere that Paul had agreed to take one final question, and this was a second final question.
But what about Paul's assertion that he "can take that message into a white evangelical church anywhere in Iowa and give exactly the same speech and be received well"? Has he ever tried it? Will he ever try it?
Before a majority-white audience he's certainly willing to allude to racial disparities in criminal justice. In his campaign kickoff speech this week, he mentioned the subject briefly:
Paul didn't spend as much time on his support of criminal justice reform.... "I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed," he said.Before a majority-black audience, by contrast, he'll talk about this at length, as he did last month in a speech at historically black Bowie State University in Maryland:
Senator Rand Paul laid out his vision on Friday for a legal system that makes it easier for people with criminal records to get jobs and to vote, telling students at a historically black college here that he believes there are still “two Americas” as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said almost a half century ago.And in the same speech:
... on Friday he kept his remarks focused on correcting inequities in the criminal justice system and expanding economic opportunity. He repeatedly condemned the harsh drug sentencing laws that put so many minority defendants behind bars.
“If you smoked some pot or grew some marijuana plants in college, you ought to get a chance,” he said.
Mr. Paul also made a case for expunging criminal records of people who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies so they can find employment more easily, a stance that puts him at odds with many in his party.
“As Republicans we’re big on saying, ‘Well, we don’t want people permanently on welfare; we want them to transition from welfare to a job,’” he said. “People say, ‘Well, how am I supposed to get a job? I was a convicted felon.’”
“There has to be a way to figure out how we can get people back to work,” he added.
Paul also spoke out against civil asset forfeitures, and called for restoring voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons....Is Paul arguing that he could take that message, discussed at that length and with that level of detail, to a majority-white audience of Iowa evangelicals and get a positive response?
The senator also issued a warning about National Security Agency surveillance programs, reminding an audience composed of about as many African Americans as whites to "think about how Martin Luther King's phone was tapped."
Is he willing to try it?
And with regard to the poll Paul Lewis mentioned: It wasn't published last week, but it was cited in the Post on Tuesday. The poll is from December, and Lewis is correct about the results:
Only 1 in 10 African Americans says blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment with whites in the criminal justice system. Only about 2 in 10 say they are confident that the police treat whites and blacks equally, whether or not they have committed a crime.So Paul has a tough sell with this message. Let's see if, in future speeches, he tries to communicate the message to white audiences with more than one-liners.
In contrast, roughly half of all white Americans say the races are treated equally in the justice system and 6 in 10 have confidence that police treat both equally.
But white Americans are hardly homogenous in their views about these issues. While 2 in 3 white Republicans say minorities and whites are treated equally in the criminal justice system, only 3 in 10 white Democrats agree with that view. Similarly, while more than 8 in 10 white Republicans say they are confident that police treat blacks and whites equally, half as many white Democrats share that opinion.