Rand Paul to GOP: Our voter ID push is "offending people"

I’ve been waiting three hours since I saw this tweet for the NYT to publish a transcript or story about what he said, but no dice as I’m writing this. If it happens tonight, I’ll update with a link. The quote’s almost certainly not out of context, though: Remember, Paul told David Axelrod a few weeks ago that he thinks the GOP might be overemphasizing the issue. What’s newsy about this is the tone. Sounds like he’s gone from “maybe this isn’t a great idea” to “let’s drop it, quickly.”

An interesting reply from lefty Benjy Sarlin:


And Paul’s evolution, needless to say, is no accident:


Meeting with black pastors and breaking with the party orthodoxy on voter ID is less important to Rand in building his base for the general election than it is in preemptively defusing the “Paul’s a racist” attacks that will begin the instant he emerges as a serious threat for the nomination. The left (and maybe not just the left) is going to kitchen-sink him on that — his old comments on the Civil Rights Act, his father’s newsletters, having the “Southern Avenger” on staff, even agreeing with Cliven Bundy about federal land-use practices before quickly denouncing him after his comments about blacks went viral. Between Paul’s voter ID skepticism, his outreach to black leaders, and his criticism of racial bias in drug law enforcement and sentencing, he’s trying to vaccinate himself from the “racism” attacks that are assuredly coming, at least to the extent that reporters are forced to mention all of Paul’s conciliatory measures towards minority voters when relaying Democratic talking points on him.

How does this play in the primaries, though? Voter ID is of a piece with immigration reform, I think, in that righties see both issues as very basic rule-of-law stuff. (Whereas lefties, naturally, see them as proxies for racism.) If you can enhance the integrity of elections by imposing a simple ID requirement, you do it; if you can reduce the risk of illegal immigration in the future, even as a condition to a mass amnesty right now, you do it. If Paul’s conceding on one of those issues because he’s eager to impress a core Democratic constituency from whom he’s unlikely to win many extra votes, it opens him up to speculation that he might concede on other important issues once in office. That is to say, in the name of vaccinating himself in the general election, he might be giving himself a bug in the primaries. And there is, of course, a potential rival who’ll be only too happy to make him pay for it: Not only has Ted Cruz praised GOP candidates for defending voter ID, he tried to attach a voter ID measure of his own to the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill last year. Cruz could use this as a proxy issue to convince conservatives that, when push comes to shove, Paul simply can’t be trusted to stand on principle. He has too many liabilities and he’s a bit too eager sometimes to try to atone for those liabilities. (Interestingly, if Paul’s recent flirtation with hawkishness towards Russia continues, some of his libertarian fans may agree.) But that raises a problem of its own:


Right. One of the reasons Perry got nuked in 2012 was his “you don’t have a heart” comment on in-state tuition for illegals. He got pounded for it in the primaries, including by Mitt “Self-deportation” Romney, and then Democrats turned around and pounded Romney on immigration. You might see the same thing on voter ID. Rand calls for a stand-down, Cruz or Rubio or Jeb or whoever tears him apart over it en route to the nomination, and then in the general election Democrats tear that guy apart for tearing Rand apart. They’ll be desperate in 2016 to maintain the high level of black turnout that Obama saw in 2008 and 2012. A GOP civil war on voter ID could be just what they need.