Sen. Rand Paul said he agrees with South Carolina Gov. (and fellow Republican) Nikki Haley that the Confederate flag should be removed from its previous place of honor on the grounds of the State House. In a radio interview this morning, Paul referred to the flag as "inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery," as well as a reminder of Dylan Roof's horrific murders:
"I think the flag is inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery, and particularly when people use it, you know, obviously for murder and to justify hated so vicious that you would kill somebody, I think that that symbolism needs to end. And I think South Carolina is doing the right thing.
I think it's, obviously, it's a decision for South Carolina to maker, but if I was in South Carolina that's what I would vote to do and I would recommend to anyone who asked me my opinion. There have been people who have used it for southern pride and heritage and all of that but really to I think to every African-American in the country it's a symbolism of slavery to them and now it's a symbol of murder for this young man and so I think it's time to put it in a museum."
Many other Republicans, including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, have also called for the flag to be taken down.
While most serious Republican presidential candidates have spoken out against the flag in recent election cycles, the notion that conservatives needed to make overtures to Confederate pride to win in the south once held some sway. Sen. John McCain famously flip-flopped on the issue in the 2000 election.
Over at The Week, Ed Morrissey argues that by coming out so strongly against the Confederate flag, Haley has made it easier for other Republicans to back her play—potentially saving the party from some embarrassing waffling on a clear-cut race issue:
With Obama's retirement in 2016, though, Republicans have an opportunity to start fresh with younger voters and those in minority communities. The RNC certainly wants to reach those voters and at least improve engagement. Had Republicans been forced to defend the flag yet again, or walk away from an opportunity to acknowledge its potent symbolism for blacks in South Carolina, that would have sent a message about the lack of insight and empathy from the GOP toward those communities throughout the entire nation — and could have blown an opportunity for a fresh start.
Instead, Nikki Haley shouldered the political risk and neutralized the issue for Republicans far ahead of the prime-time campaign season. She succeeded by doing the right thing and taking action for unity to match her earlier calls for healing. She may or may not pay a political price in the state if she decides to run for office in South Carolina after her second term as governor expires, but Republican presidential candidates can thank Haley's sense of leadership for getting them off of a very uncomfortable hook.
To compete for the votes of young people and minorities, Republicans have to prove that they aren't stuck in the past. My sense is that opposing the Confederate flag is a relatively easy way for Republicans to gain some "we suck less!" points with people who would otherwise completely write off the GOP. The trade-off—appearing insufficiently conservative to pro-Confederate southerners—is less and less relevant.
For additional reading on this subject, check out this powerful Daily Beast column from Rare Politics editor Jack Hunter. Libertarianism, Hunter writes, changed his thinking about the flag:
My attraction to libertarianism a number of years ago began a journey of rejecting groupthink and placing primacy on the individual. Once you start down the path of putting individual human beings above whatever group they belong to, it puts politics—and everything else—in a new light.
Putting people before an agenda or broad prejudices puts us all in a much better place. It can, and should, make us repentant of our past behavior. It did for me.
For libertarians, people should matter more than government-facilitated national pride. It's inspiring (and frankly, a relief) to see that libertarian-leaning Republicans like Paul are honoring that principle rather than following an outdated and offensive political strategy.