A poor messenger with a dubious message

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks with reporters in Memphis, Tenn., May 9, 2014.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks with reporters in Memphis, Tenn., May 9, 2014.
If persistence mattered more than accuracy, then Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would be extremely well positioned to expand his base of support to traditional Democratic constituencies. After all, the Kentucky Republican rarely misses an opportunity to make his pitch to organizations committed to civil rights and the interests of minority communities.
Benjy Sarlin reports today, for example, that Paul talked up his agenda at a civil rights conference in Ohio this morning.

"I say we take a stand and fight for justice now," said the Republican senator from Kentucky. The speech to the National Urban League's conference in Cincinnati was part of a broader campaign by Paul to engage with minority voters ahead of a likely presidential run. [...] "Not only do I support the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, I'm a Republican who wants to restore a federal role for the government in the Voting Rights Act," Paul said.

On a surface level, that sounds like exactly the kind of message progressives and proponents of civil rights find appealing.
It's what happens when we look just below the surface that Rand Paul runs into trouble.
I can appreciate the fact that the senator sees himself as a unique champion on the issue. Just this month, Paul told a Rotary Club audience, "[Y]ou'll find nobody in Congress doing more for minority rights than me right now – Republican or Democrat."
Yes, there are 535 voting members of Congress, and if Rand Paul were to rank them all on their eagerness to support minority rights, he'd put himself at #1.
There's reason for skepticism. Paul today described himself as a supporter of the Civil Rights Act, but he was critical of the law as a Senate candidate four years ago. He boasted of his support for the Voting Rights Act, but there's a bipartisan legislative proposal to repair the law following last year's Supreme Court ruling, and as of this morning, Paul has neither signed on as a co-sponsor nor introduced an alternative.
Complicating matters, the Kentucky Republican is also largely on board with the substance of his party's voter-suppression agenda, including voter-ID laws that disproportionately affects minority voters.
The senator also opposes equal marriage rights for all and found a neo-Confederate who celebrates the birthday of Abraham Lincoln's assassin, wrote a book with the guy, and then hired him to work on his Senate staff.
To his credit, Paul has shown leadership on issues like sentencing reforms, which is an admirable position.
But it's the larger context where the senator runs into trouble.