GOP Hopefuls React Gingerly to Baltimore Riots
Policy + Politics

GOP Hopefuls React Gingerly to Baltimore Riots

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul suggested earlier this week that the absence of fathers in many Baltimore families was partly to blame not just for the riots that engulfed the city after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died after his spine was partially severed while he was in police custody, but for the larger problems of crime and poverty that beset Maryland’s largest city. 

“There are so many things we can talk about that I think it's something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath, but over time,” he said in an appearance on talk radio. “You know, the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society. This isn't just a racial thing.” 

Related: In a Break from Scandal, Hillary Clinton Talks Criminal Justice Reform 

He was immediately pummeled by left-leaning commentators for the remarks, some of whom suggested in fairly explicit terms, that Paul is simply racist. But on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton made a similar point in her remarks on criminal justice reform and mass incarceration.

“When we talk about one and a half million missing African American men, we're talking about missing husbands, missing fathers, missing brothers,” Clinton said. “They're not there to look after their children or bring home a paycheck. And the consequences are profound.”

The reaction to her speech was mostly positive, and there were certainly no overt suggestions that her concern about the lack of father figures in Baltimore and cities like it was a signal of cloaked racism. 

It’s an illustration of how difficult it is, and will continue to be, for Republicans to address certain issues in the public sphere. The party’s “Southern Strategy” of the 1960s and 1970s has left many in the African American community automatically suspicious of their motives when they start talking about subjects like race and poverty. 

Related: How to Stop the Next Urban Rae Riot? Ask a Republican 

Similarly, the strong presence of the religious right, anti-immigration activists, and virulent anti-taxation protesters in the party means that among gays, minorities, and people who rely on public assistance, Republicans begin at a disadvantage when they try to advance ideas about issues concerning those groups. 

It was little surprise then, that most of the Republican candidates stuck to fairly anodyne comments about the unrest in Baltimore. 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sent out a tweet offering prayers to the people of the city.

Related: Riots Could Leave Baltimore’s Economy Reeling for Years 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likewise took to Twitter, announcing that 150 New Jersey State Troopers had been sent to assist the Maryland State Police. 

Traveling in Puerto Rico, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called for “a commitment to the rule of law and to law enforcement.” His fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, has been largely silent on the issue. 

Other than Paul, the only major GOP candidate who made a significant attempt to diagnose the troubles in Baltimore was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. 

After releasing a fairly non-controversial statement earlier in the week that called for both an end to the rioting and an investigation of the death of Gray, he appeared before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to declare that the strife in Baltimore was President Obama’s fault. 

“President Obama, when he was elected, he could have been a unifying leader,” Cruz said. Instead, he said that Obama has “inflamed racial tensions that have divided us rather than bringing us together” and “has exacerbated racial misunderstandings.” 

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