April 10th, 2013
03:49 PM ET
7 years ago

Rand Paul: GOP must reconnect with African Americans

(CNN) – Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who's considering a 2016 presidential bid, made a pitch for his party Wednesday at the historically black Howard University, arguing why the GOP and African Americans should fall in the same column.

"I came to Howard today not to preach and to prescribe to you some special formula, but to say I want a government that leaves you alone," the Kentucky senator said. "My hope is that you'll hear me out. You're going to see me for who I am and not a caricature that's sometimes presented by political opponents."

Paul acknowledged that his visit was uncommon–he was the first major Republican to address the school since Colin Powell gave a speech in 1994–and seemed to embrace the fact that he was speaking before what he presumed to be a largely Democratic audience.

"Some have said that I'm either brave or crazy to be here today," he said. "I've never been, though, one to sit by and watch the world go by without participating."

His address comes just weeks after the GOP rolled out its plan to better connect with minority voters, including African Americans. The Republican National Committee will spend $10 million on staff members to communicate conservative principles in cities across the country, one of the many decisions it made following the party's major loss among minority voters in the presidential election.

President Obama won 93% of the African American vote last year, and 95% in 2008.

At Howard, the first-term senator ticked through the Republican Party's history with African Americans and civil rights, referencing President Abraham Lincoln, emancipation, and adding that the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were Republican. He ran through Republican fights for civil and voting rights, as well.

"How did the party that elected the first black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American congressmen, how did that party become the party that now loses 95% of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the great emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race?" he asked.

The audience seemed generally receptive to his remarks. They laughed at his jokes and gave brief applause when he said he would fight to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, as well as when he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.

At one point, his speech was interrupted when two African American males held up a banner that said "Howard does not support white supremacy." Three security guards grabbed the protesters, and struggled with them as they were escorted out of the room. Other than that, the environment was largely cordial.

"Some have concluded that Republicans are somehow inherently insensitive to minority rights. Nothing could be further from the truth," Paul argued. "Republicans do indeed still believe many rights remain with the people and the states respectively."

Paul staunchly defended his support of civil and voting rights, saying he's never "wavered" on the issue. During his Senate campaign in 2010, however, Paul took heat for repeatedly dodging questions about whether he thinks parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act amounted to a constitutional overreach. The senator briefly referenced the controversy Wednesday, saying the dispute is over "how much of the remedy should come under federal, or state, or private purview."

One student in the audience, Julian K. Lewis, a senior, told CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper that Paul's appearance gave the senator more credibility.

"I think Rand Paul won everyone in the room over when he made the announcement that he was going to come and speak to Howard University students because we know throughout the years, the Republican Party has blatantly ignored and disrespected the African American community," Lewis said, though he added he wasn't too convinced by Paul's message.

During his speech, Paul put forth his own theory on why Republicans lost favor among African Americans. He argued they became "impatient" during the Great Depression because "they wanted economic emancipation."

Republican policies, he said, aren't as tangible and don't "put food on the table" as quickly as Democratic polices. But the GOP believes that free market principles go beyond that by creating jobs and a more stable economy in the long run, he said.

He went on to articulate the party's stance on education and national security, saying not all Republicans are the war hawks the party became known for last decade.

Most of all, Paul argued, the party has failed to talk about the "great history and interaction between the Republican Party and black history and voting rights in our country."

"It's an uphill battle for me to try to convince you that we haven't changed, but that's part of me being here, that's what I'm trying to do anyway," he said.

- CNN's Steve Brusk and Matt Hoye contributed to this report.

Filed under: Rand Paul
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Rick McDaniel


    All THEY want..........is hand outs. They want to live off of the government, or put another way, off of the middle class tax rates.

    April 10, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain

    During his speech, Paul put forth his own theory on why Republicans lost favor among African Americans. He argued they became "impatient" during the Great Depression because "they wanted economic emancipation."

    Rand is a typical Repub: Never take responsibility for your own actions; always blame a person's troubles on themselves.

    Rand is a little puke!

    April 10, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. ThinkAgain

    Runt Paul is against affirmative action and legal protection against discrimination – without which companies would still be able to not hire minorities or universities admit students, even if they were the most qualified, simply because of their race.

    April 10, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  4. rs

    Earth to Rand Paul: The GOP needs to reconnect to America, period.

    April 10, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |

    Get OFF the stage!

    April 10, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  6. ThinkAgain

    Runt Paul has this delusion that the free market will fix everything – completely ignoring all historical evidence to the contrary.

    Equally pathetic is his expectation that black people will just change their minds about the GOP based on Runt's using different phrases and rewriting history. Just because the ignorant GOP base falls for your tricks and lies, Runt, doesn't mean anyone else will.

    April 10, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    Bwahahaha. So predictable. Avowed libertarian ideologue nutjob, who has previously stated that lunch counters should be allowed to tell inconventiently complexioned individuals to get out, waltzed into an historically black university and gave a speech that was mindblowingly out of touch, frequently offensive, racially paternalistic and heavily influenced by the current hivemind reality-denial group-think of the GOP/Teatrolls that "the only reason minorities don't like us is because they just don't know us." But see, we do know them. Randroid is exactly what we thought he was and he just proved it. The GOP/Teatrolls are exactly who we thought they were and they've been consistently proving it despite all their rabid blather about "outreach." Please proceed, GOPers/Teatrolls. PLEASE. PROCEED.

    April 10, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  8. PaulCat

    OK, "should" you get my vote in 2016, I'm 100% positive you will pull a "Scott Walker." Of course you will do like he did, wait until after the election to get back to your real believes.

    April 10, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    ""how much of the remedy should come under federal, or state, or private purview.""

    The answer to that question was already written in the blood of 650,000 Amurikans. Pretending it's still up for debate is patently ridiculous and offensive.

    April 10, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  10. Bill

    The buffoonish Aqua Buddha speaks. What a clown.

    April 10, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  11. Mack

    "by cutting taxes for the wealthy, it will eventually trickle down on you"

    April 10, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  12. rs

    All THEY want..........is hand outs.

    Niiiice display of racism there.

    April 10, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  13. Tom Joad

    Rand Paul has nothing to say to African Americans whom he doesn't understand or care about.

    " the GOP believes that free market principles go beyond that by creating jobs and a more stable economy in the long run"

    All too often, that trickle down stuff has a decidedly yellow hue to it.

    April 10, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  14. Jim Hahn

    I hope the intelligent people in the audience are wondering how dumb Rand Paul thinks they are.

    April 10, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  15. snj

    The only thing that that visit showed was that Rand Paul is not afraid to speak to people of different colors, beliefs, and political affiliations. Everything else he said was complete predictable nonsense. He never faulted the GOP for their actions in marginalizing minorities throughout the latter half of the 20th century. He seemed to fault minorities for GOP/minority pop. dissociation. In other words – his message was still complete crap. If the GOP wants to fix it's image it needs to review and change it's core social and societal ideals.

    April 10, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  16. The Elephant in the Room

    The Republican Party should stop mentioning that is the party of Lincoln. . . . it is not and no one believes that they are. They sound like used car salesmen when they say it.

    Credibility with black folks will come to the GOP only when they are seen defending women & minorities rights to the American dream. For example, when was the last time the GOP fought to punish someone or some company for discrimination? Take that black business owner that was wrongly denied a loan that a similarly qualified white entrepreneur would have gotten. This would still be "free market capitalistic" principles. It just wouldn`t implicitly endorse racism.

    April 10, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  17. SafeJourney

    Rand Paul , the republicans will Never reconnect with the majority of African Americans especially you.

    April 10, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  18. freedom

    I do hope a better connection happens – more knowledge on what the conservatives stand for – work ethic, family unity, freedom, independence to achieve and grow, faith in God – all values that the African American community embrace. This president had the most incredible opportunity to bring us together more as a nation – and he has done the total opposite! Division on every level – including, of all things – race. Shameful. He may be the first African American (half) president, but his legacy will not be one of unity, harmony, or evolution as a nation. He chose to go 1000 steps backwards.

    April 10, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  19. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Where would he stand if there were private companies that systematically denied people promotions and services based on race, religion or any other reason? There are cases where that might be the only game in town. What to do then? Not everyone like everyone else and is willing to play by the same rules. That is the need for the Civil Rights Act among other legislation.

    April 10, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  20. Patrick in Wisconsin

    Rand, the only way you or any of your other republican colleagues will gain the support of African Americans, latinos, Asians, etc, you'd have to change your platform so much that it would look more like the current Democrat platform.

    April 10, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  21. Tea Party Thomas

    Rand Paul for president 2016.

    End of Social Security 2017
    End of Medicare 2017
    End of Welfare 2017
    End of Obamacare 2017.
    End of all the other give a ways 2017

    We are the Tea Party Republicans. Vote for us and we will free you from the socialist programs that has put you in chains.

    April 10, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  22. Wake up People!

    @Rick McDaniel

    You have a lot of damned nerves saying all we want are handouts. That's a damn lie. Many of us work extremely hard and don't want anything from anyone EXCEPT a fair chance. But that's hard to get even in this day and age. I sat at the front desk of a company for almost 10 years and watched many qualified black applicants apply that didn't even get an interview, but every drugged out white boy that was a friend of the shop foremans son got hired.

    I've always known you were a racist but thanks for confirming it for me!

    April 10, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. Trance

    Rick McDaniel


    All THEY want..........is hand outs. They want to live off of the government, or put another way, off of the middle class tax rates.
    You so dump, this is a college they are not asking for hand outs. Do your home work there are more WHITES on welfare and food stamps than BLACKS. I gather you are one of those one that is getting an handout........ Amother thing most of Howard Students are from upper middle class families. This hand out is for you......take your meds because no one wants to read your BS

    April 10, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  24. Will-South Dakota

    so the GOP reaches out with thier continued gerrymandering to eliminate minority voting, t

    April 10, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    To be fair: Randroid, who is every bit the nutjob I accused him of, is somewhat different than the others. For him, I think (or at least get the impression) that, while he's certainly ambitious and trying to line up his 2016 run (which he has apparently already started), this was actually a genuine and sincere attempt to make inroads on this issue...at least for himself if not for the greater GOP/Teatroll party structure. That it still ended up a clumsy, wayward, sometimes offensive, often misinformed, out of touch, off the mark, somewhat ill-advised in its angle and overall just plain old unfortunate...that it still was all those things helps highlight the real work the GOP/Teatrolls have ahead of them. It's going to be a long, hard, grinding road for them to turn these knids of things around. They need to come to terms with certain concepts...like the fact that dropping an n-bomb is still racist even if you didn't say it with "racist intent" (whatever that means) or that showing up at a black university and talking to the repdominantly black audience as if they didn't know that lincoln was a Republican is condescending and a huge turnoff...and it's going to take time for them to get it right and change minds within their party and base. I will say this though: it's still a mark of progress that they've moved from a place where all of them are purposefully prejudiced and hateful to a place where some of them are simply unaware of and oblivious to the racist nature of some of the things they say and do (as Randroid just illustrated in spades). I make fun of him for this because it's funny, but I'll give him a B for the effort because someone has to have the balls to do what he did and risk the backlash and criticism he did....if nobody does what he did, then they won't learn. The real test is going to be whether he has an honest and insightful response to the criticism he's going to get or just blows it off and makes excuses.

    April 10, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
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