Now that Kentucky Republicans have bestowed their Senate nomination upon Rand Paul, the Party has evinced on a national stage just how perilously—and perhaps irrevocably—it risks alienating an entire generation of voters.
Full disclosure: I am not only a registered Republican but an ethnic minority – black if you’re wondering – an unfortunately increasingly rare paradox. What seems absurdly beyond the grasp of today’s Republicans is the volatility of our current political alignment. Democrats giddily presaged “permanent” voter realignment in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 victories in states such as Virginia and North Carolina, a vision obviously and demonstrably premature.
Left unspoken following those results was its logical inverse: If blue collar white voters were willing to break ranks with the GOP, then surely an appealing message could one day break the Democrats’ stranglehold on minority voters. That Rand Paul could offer only qualified support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is astonishing for any candidate in the year 2010, and evidence of a continually unserious approach to expanding the Party’s base. The Republicans’ more regionalist members delude themselves that any censure of the Party’s southern history stems from a sort of familial embarrassment, a desire to ingratiate amongst the “coastal elites”. If whistles have lyrics, such is the song heard passing the graveyard.
Coming on the heels of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s inaugural Confederate History Month, the controversy resulting from Rand Paul’s Republican nomination evinces an unfortunate pattern. It matters not whether Paul himself is a racist in his innermost personal beliefs; the reality is a party consistently stumbling over some racially disastrous P.R. Does this sound descriptive of arms opening to a new generation of young minorities?
Given the Party’s current lack of national leadership, the task of responding to Paul’s remarks fell to Sarah Palin, who blasted ubiquitous “gotcha” journalism rather than the comments themselves. Compare this to then-President Bush’s condemnation of Trent Lott’s allusion of sympathy toward Strom Thurmond’s segregationist platform in 2002:
Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country… He has apologized and rightly so. Every day that our nation was segregated was a day our nation was unfaithful to our founding ideals.
Lacking an unqualified rebuke of Rand Paul’s tone deaf equivocating, optimistic predictions for a Republican resurgence this fall could themselves prove premature; the wilderness from which the Party seemed poised to emerge could unfortunately become an increasingly familiar home.