MSNBC host Al Sharpton isn’t going to back Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul for president in 2016, but told Politico he was impressed with him and concerned that Paul won’t scare enough African Americans into voting Democratic.
Sharpton even compared Paul, a libertarian, with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was often criticized as a nanny-state mayor, in terms of reaching out to black voters.
“What I think is more dangerous for Democrats is, if a guy like Paul is out there, if he becomes the nominee, for argument’s sake, he … does not generate a turnout against him,” Sharpton told Politico in a story posted Monday. “If he’s able to neutralize his past image on civil rights, if he becomes the candidate … and if you don’t get a huge black turnout saying ‘We’re afraid [of him],’” that could harm Democrats, Sharpton said.
At Sharpton’s request, the two had breakfast last Thursday in the Senate dining room. He further made the Bloomberg comparison in New York, saying the billionaire former mayor “didn’t get a lot of black votes … but because he reached out, a lot of blacks were not energized to come out and vote against him.”
In 2010, Paul stirred controversy during his campaign for Senate when he questioned whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act should have applied to private businesses. He later said he would have voted for the bill had he been in the Senate at the time.
But since serving in the Senate, he has visited Ferguson, Missouri, and criticized militarized police forces; advocated restoring the voting rights of non-violent felons; and co-sponsored a bill with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on criminal justice reform.
“I think he knows it’s unlikely someone like Al Sharpton would endorse him, but I can’t ignore him,” Sharpton said. “He’s openly dealing with issues that [politicians] including people in the Democratic Party, haven’t done.”
Sharpton added that Hillary Clinton’s good record on civil rights wouldn’t be enough.
“In this era of Ferguson and chokehold and the fact that we have the first black president leaving the White House, you can’t just go by record,” he said. “You gotta go by, as Janet Jackson used to say, ‘What have you done for me lately?’”
The fact that Paul even met with the controversial Sharpton has upset some Republicans. Jennifer Rubin, of the Washington Post’s Right Turn blog, wrote that black former Democratic U.S. House member-turned-Republican Arthur Davis told her there are better ways to reach out to the black community.
“Meet me in Montgomery, Alabama, where the modern civil rights movement was born, and let’s visit neighborhoods where ordinary people are struggling to raise their kids; not ‘leaders’ with cable shows, but families doing the best they can against tough odds,” Davis told Rubin. “We can visit churches in Montgomery that buried teenagers last summer who were killed not by cops but by other kids.”