Shortly after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul penned an opinion piece in Time magazine
in which he argued that outrage over the black teenager's death was "understandable" and should result in an end to the militarization of the police.
Paul wrote that while there is no excuse for looting, "there should be a difference between a police response and a military response."
While libertarians and conservatives embraced his view concerning demilitarizing the police, some Republicans were not as receptive.
"I really feel for that community ... but the political response from Paul and [Democratic Sen. Claire] McCaskill to what happened is a little premature," Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Matt Wills told The Hill.
As he lays the groundwork for a presidential campaign, Paul has seized on the issue of criminal justice reform as a platform from which to launch an outreach to African-American voters.
In a July appearance on Fox News' "Hannity," Paul said African-American outreach would remain a cornerstone of his political strategy going forward.
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"I want to compete for the African-American vote by saying, 'You know what, Republicans have policies to help with poverty, to help with long-term unemployment,'" Paul told guest host Eric Bolling.
Paul touched on many of those issues during his National Urban League Conference address on July 25.
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The Kentucky senator's outreach to black voters has been embraced by many in the GOP, including former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
"I applaud him for making it uncomfortable for the party. And I suspect he’s going to make it even more uncomfortable. He should, because how can you reconcile saying, 'Black people, we want you in the party.' Then party leaders back policy and legislation that alienates the black community," Steele told The New York Times.
Those sentiments were echoed by conservative civil rights activist and spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality Niger Innis, who told The Washington Times
that Paul "has been courageous and in the vanguard of expanding the GOP playing field."
Innis noted Paul is seizing on his libertarian principles as a platform to launch his outreach to black voters, particularly on issues of criminal justice and voting rights reform.
"He’s doing an interesting two-step dance politically. His libertarian credentials are being reaffirmed with his questioning of drug sentencing laws and the militarization of local law enforcement. At the same time, he’s using those very same issues and others to appeal to urban-dwelling minorities that are often affected by said policies," Innis said.
The Republican Party has not fared well with black voters in recent elections. In 2012, only 16 percent of African Americans considered themselves Republicans, despite the fact that 44 percent consider themselves to have a moderate political views and just 28 percent say they hold "liberal" views, reports Blackdemographics.com
The Republican who has done best among black voters since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was Gerald Ford, who won 15 percent of their vote in 1976.
Some conservatives have voiced disagreement with the policies he is using to court minority voters, particularly his proposal to restore voting rights to felons, which some believe is a violation of states' rights and the 14th Amendment.
"Sen. Paul is overriding his principles in a mistaken belief that it is necessary to somehow reach black voters," former Federal Election Commission member Hans A. von Spakovsky, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation tells The Washington Times. "He makes a very big deal about saying he believes in the Constitution and keeping the federal government within the limits of its power as defined in the Constitution — a very worthy goal."
Other conservatives, like Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson,
believe Paul is being disingenuous by downplaying unattractive aspects of libertarian philosophy in his quest for votes.
"Paul has risen to prominence by employing a political trick, which is already growing old. He emphasizes the sliver of his libertarianism that gets nods of agreement (say, rolling back police excesses) while ignoring the immense, discrediting baggage of his ideology (say, discomfort with federal civil rights law or belief in a minimal state incapable of addressing poverty and stalled mobility)," Gerson wrote in a recent column.
"As a senator, this tactic has worked. But were Paul to become the GOP presidential nominee, the media infatuation would end, and any Democratic opponent would have a field day with Paul’s disturbing history and cramped ideology. On racial issues, the GOP needs a successor to Kemp — and an alternative to Paul," says Gerson, who served as Assistant to the President for Policy and Strategic Planning in George W. Bush's administration.
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