Does Rand Paul support voter ID laws, or not?

On CBS’s 'Face the Nation,' Bob Schieffer asked the Kentucky senator whether he supported GOP-backed efforts to require voters to show picture IDs in many states.

John Sommers II/Reuters
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky campaigns for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell at Bowman Field airport in Louisville Nov. 3.

Is Rand Paul OK with voter ID laws, or not?

That question comes up because Senator Paul (R) of Kentucky kind of straddled the issue when he talked about it on Sunday’s talk shows.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” for example, Bob Schieffer asked Paul whether he supported Republican-backed efforts to require voters to show picture identification in many states.

In reply, Paul said, “I have mixed feelings.”

On the one hand, said Paul, he has to show his driver’s license if he wants to go into the Justice Department and see Attorney General Eric Holder. (Does he do this a lot? That would be an entertaining meeting to watch.)

On the other hand, African-Americans claim voter ID laws are mainly an effort to suppress their vote, which is largely Democratic. And Paul thinks the GOP needs to reach out to minorities if it is to win back the White House. He urges combining voter ID with moves to expand voting rights, such as legislation to restore voting rights to felons.

“So I’m not really opposed to [voter ID]. I am opposed to it as a campaign theme,” said Kentucky’s junior senator.

In other words, he supports voter ID, but doesn’t want to talk about it. That’s the way Democrats saw it anyway, and many of them claimed Paul’s response showed he is willing to remake himself to appeal to core Republican voters in advance of the 2016 presidential race.

“If rhetoric mattered more than policy, Rand Paul’s posture would represent real progress. But for those trying to overcome indefensible voting restrictions, created by Republicans for the most brazen and undemocratic of reasons, the senator’s interest in a tonal shift is literally meaningless,” writes Steve Benen on the left-leaning blog of NBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.”

Many on the right aren’t any happier about Paul’s way of handling the issue. They point out that voter ID laws are generally popular with the public, as shown by poll results, and that they’re necessary to combat what they see as the widespread problem of voter fraud. This has proved a popular GOP talking point but Democrats and many independent analysts argue that studies have shown negligible levels of voter fraud.

Plus, conservatives say, it’s rich to get lectured on this from a guy who as recently as 2010 said he would not have supported the Civil Rights Act.

For some Republicans the larger issue here is that Paul keeps talking in insulting terms about the need to remake the party to appeal to a broader demographic. Last week, for example, he said the GOP’s brand “sucks” outside its core voters. During his appearances over the weekend he did not repeat that word but stuck to the same message.

“Trying to get the psychology of Rand Paul going on multiple Sunday shows to attack conservatives not named him 2 days before elections,” tweeted conservative author and commentator S.E. Cupp.

Expect this sort of multifaceted debate to only become more heated as the 2016 race progresses. Paul wants to expand his appeal beyond his libertarian base while simultaneously remaking his party. That’s a pretty different approach to running for president. It’s already earned him the top spot on Politico’s recent list of the 50 ideas changing US politics.

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