WASHINGTON — Even as national Republican officials seek ways to limit damage from Rand Paul's unorthodox remarks on civil rights, the Kentucky Senate nominee raised more eyebrows Friday by defending the oil company blamed for the Gulf oil spill.
Those comments, on top of Paul's earlier suggestion that businesses should have the right to turn away racial minorities, sent Democrats into full attack mode while top Republicans pondered how to calm things down.
It's a delicate issue. The Republican establishment spurned Paul and supported his opponent, Trey Grayson, the hand-picked choice of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Paul, a favorite of the tea party movement, walloped Grayson in Tuesday's primary. Now, chastened GOP leaders are dealing with a novice and outsider who, feeling his oats, has expressed his robust libertarian views in a series of interviews that have caused political pros to wince.
High-ranking Republicans from Washington have quietly reached out to Paul and his aides, trying to start healing the breach and to nudge him toward greater campaign discipline, said three GOP operatives close to the situation.
The three, who would speak only on background to avoid antagonizing Paul and his supporters, disagreed on how the initial exchanges have gone. A Washington-based Republican official, who has spoken with Paul's campaign advisers, said the harsh national reaction to the nominee's MSNBC interview on Wednesday "was like a wake-up call" to his inner circle.
"They know they messed up" by allowing liberal show host Rachel Maddow to draw out Paul's thoughts on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the official said. Paul told Maddow he abhors racial discrimination, but he also suggested the federal government shouldn't have the power to force restaurants to admit minorities.
There were signs late Friday that Paul was getting the message. His campaign canceled his scheduled appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," accusing reporters of being obsessed with the civil rights flap.
Paul, an eye doctor and son of libertarian presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, criticized President Obama's handling of the Gulf oil spill Friday, calling it overtly antibusiness.
Other Republicans have criticized the government's handling of the oil spill. But few have been so vocal in defending BP, the company responsible for the deep well and offshore rig that exploded last month, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons of oil.
Paul said BP has agreed to pay the costs of the cleanup and damage. "I think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be somebody's fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen," he told ABC.