Rand Paul's Top Idea to Win Minority Voters: Attack Indefinite Detention?

How does the Kentucky senator plan to connect with the young and minorities? By talking about Guantanamo, apparently.
Reuters

Rand Paul knows the Republican Party needs to broaden its base. He knows that few other Republicans are willing to reach out, and that many members of the party are content to hunker down with older, white voters. And he knows it's personally beneficial to his political career to do the reaching out.

So why is he so bad at doing it?

Check out this passage from an interview he did with Atlantic alum Joshua Green of Businessweek:

What is your plan to refashion the GOP to draw more minority and younger voters?
All voters, but particularly young people, and often young people who are African American or Hispanic, I think they have a sense of justice, and they sometimes mistrust government with achieving justice. So one of the big issues that I’ve fought here is getting rid of the provision called indefinite detention. This is the idea that an American citizen could be accused of a crime, held indefinitely without charge, and actually sent from America to Guantánamo Bay and kept forever.

I think there is something in that message of justice and a right to a trial by jury and a right to a lawyer that resonate beyond the traditional Republican Party and will help us to grow the Republican Party with the youth. Defending the Internet’s privacy, these are all things that broaden the appeal of Republicans.

That's amazing. Rand Paul's top idea for reaching out to minority and youth voters is talking about indefinite detention. Not a plan to contend with sky-high unemployment rates among young people and minorities. Not a nod to the increasingly dizzying cost of a college education. Not a discussion of police injustice inside the United States, a swipe at tactics like stop-and-frisk or a nod to the Trayvon Martin trial.

Rule of law is important, and it's been systematically marginalized and ignored for the last dozen years. To his credit, Paul has been a leading voice in insisting on it (at least in most cases!). But one can admire his principle while being baffled by his politics, that this is the first idea he comes up with when put on the spot about minority and young voters.

Where would he have gotten the idea that this is a hot-button issue for millennials? There's not exactly a surfeit of polls on the topic with crosstabs for race and age, but look at this May Fox News poll, for example:

Note that while non-whites are less supportive of keeping Guatanamo than whites, a majority favor still keeping it open. Meanwhile, voters under 35 are actually slightly more in favor of the prison than older ones.

Paul's answer here seems like part of a pattern of unpreparedness. Remember his April visit to Howard University? It was a bold gesture of outreach for which he was applauded. But once there, Paul faltered. He stretched the truth in describing past statements about the Civil Rights Act, and seemed naive about what students at a leading HBCU would know about history.

"Someone should have told Rand Paul he was going to a school where black history and politics are the air," my labelmate Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote. "It's not so much that Rand Paul is a Republican that matters, it's his obvious lack of either good African-American advisers, or advisers who simply cared enough to do some recon. Someone who knew Howard could have told him that he was walking into a lion's den .... To be good at talking to black people, you must talk to black people."

Of course, it's hard to make a pitch to minority voters when you've got a guy like Jack Hunter working for you.

While we're on the topic, the end of Green's interview with Paul is pretty entertaining:

Who would your ideal Fed chairman be?
Hayek would be good, but he’s deceased.

Nondead Fed chairman.
Friedman would probably be pretty good, too, and he’s not an Austrian, but he would be better than what we have.

Dead, too.
Yeah. Let’s just go with dead, because then you probably really wouldn’t have much of a functioning Federal Reserve.

Presented by

David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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