Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, and "You had to ask me the but …"

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The talk show clip that is making the rounds this morning comes from Rachel Maddow, who was more than happy to give Rand Paul a full 20 minutes to continuously dodge one question about a business owner's right to discriminate. In previous interviews, Paul had noted his concerns about the Civil Rights Act requiring businesses to serve people regardless of race.

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The most telling line in the piece is the video from the editorial interview where Paul nervously says, "You had to ask me the but …" Paul should have stated clearly that he supports a business' right to discriminate, but that he would not personally support that business and he would hope the free market would make it impossible for the business to survive. He said as much in a newspaper editorial interview. He would loose votes, for sure, but the maze he tries to pull Maddow through in the interview just makes things worse. He essentially blames her for sticking to the question, but he's really to blame for not answering it.

As Tea Party kingmaker, Sen. Jim DeMint is facing fresh criticism from South Carolina Democrats for his last-minute endorsement for Rand Paul. Democratic candidate Vic Rawl has called on DeMint to withdraw his Paul endorsement and the state party has called on him to clarify his own beliefs regarding the Civil Rights Act.

"Jim DeMint needs to stand up now and make clear that he does not stand with his pal on the Civil Rights Act, unless he actually agrees with such a divisive and discredited ideology," says state Democratic Party chair Carol Fowler. "With a key political ally essentially seeking to relegate 28 percent of his constituents to second-class citizen status, it's abhorrent that Jim DeMint is remaining silent."

This campaign season, DeMint isn't the only one who's going to be tied to Paul. Support or opposition to the the Civil Rights Act in its entirety is going to be a question every Republican is going to have to answer. The problem for most of them is that they're going to want to pivot right for the next three to five weeks before the primary and run-offs, and then swing back to the middle this summer. They should spend a little time today trying to figure out how to perform the landing better than Paul did last night.

Does this change the math in November? Not likely. The margins were already closing in the Kentucky race and they'll keep narrowing, but Paul is still the likely winner. And Vic Rawl is still facing a multi-million campaign with little more than a pee-shooter. But it takes another layer of sheen off the Tea Party and the 2010 conservative ascension.

It's interesting that DeMint would be in the thick of this because he's been in the same hole. Back in 2004, DeMint got in trouble on the campaign trail for saying that gays and unwed mothers shouldn't be able to teach in public schools. It led to a strikingly similar uncomfortable exchange with Tim Russert, where Demint tried desperately to stand by his comments, while also not repeating them.

MR. RUSSERT: But don't the voters have a right to know about whether or not you still stand by comments you made in the campaign? Do you stand by your comments?

REP. DeMINT: I apologized for answering a local school board question.

MR. RUSSERT: No, you're apologizing for the distraction, but it's a simple question. Do you believe that gays should be able to teach in South Carolina schools?

REP. DeMINT: Well, Tim...

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that single moms should be able to teach?

REP. DeMINT: It's a very simple answer. I think the local school board should make that issue, not Senate can—I mean, make that decision.

MR. RUSSERT: But you didn't think that a month ago when you answered the question.

REP. DeMINT: And I apologize for that, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: For answering the question?

REP. DeMINT: Yeah, for distracting from the real thing.

MR. RUSSERT: But not for the substance of your comments.

REP. DeMINT: Tim, who hires teachers should be decided by local school boards.

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