Rand Paul, the Tea Party's rising star from Kentucky who won the state's GOP Senate primary this week, says criticism of his views on the Civil Rights Act and other pieces of anti-discrimination legislation are "red herrings" and Democrats' attempt to "trash" his campaign.
"When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory," Paul told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" today. "I've just been trashed up and down and they have been saying things that are untrue. And when they say I'm for repealing the Civil Rights Act, it's absolutely false. It's never been my position and something that I basically just think is politics."
Paul's comments came amid a firestorm of criticism sparked earlier this week when he appeared to question the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which he said went too far in banning discrimination by private companies.
In an interview Wednesday with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Paul was asked whether he believed private businesses should have the right to refuse service to African-Americans.
"Yes," Paul said. "I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form. … But I think what's important about this debate is not written into any specific 'gotcha' on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?"
His comments drew a range of criticism, including a rebuke from the White House Thursday, with press secretary Robert Gibbs telling reporters, "a discussion about whether or not you support those I don't think has a real, shouldn't have a place in our political dialogue in 2010."
Republicans also seemed to distance themselves from Paul's views. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele made it clear the GOP supports the Civil Rights Act, whatever its Senate nominee in Kentucky says.
Paul has said he doesn't believe the government has the right to tell a private business who they have to serve but insists he has not -- and has never -- called for a repeal of the law.
"If you want to bring up 40-year-old legislation, why don't you bring me on with Sen. [Robert] Byrd, and we'll talk about how he filibustered the Civil Rights Act," he said of the 92-year-old West Virginia Democrat. "Make him, call him to task for something he actually did as opposed to calling me to task for something they insinuated that I might believe that's not true.
"What is going on here is an attempt to vilify us for partisan reasons. Where do your talking points come from? The Democratic National Committee, they also come from Rachel Maddow and MSNBC."
Paul Slams Obama Administration for Treatment of BP
Paul's political philosophy, which is shared by many members of the Tea Party movement, emphasizes a more limited role of the federal government in U.S. business and society.
Earlier this year, for example, Paul told the Fox Business Channel that he believes government agencies should reduce their regulation of the energy industry. "Get the EPA out of our coal business down here, get OSHA out of our small businesses. We need to restrain government to let small businesses create jobs," he said.
Paul affirmed the comments on "Good Morning America," saying that he finds the Environmental Protection Agency's recent regulatory initiative on greenhouse gas emissions, independent of Congress, "particularly galling."
"I think that's a regulatory commission run amok and I think we need to have congressional oversight," he said. "I don't think regulatory agencies should write regulations without approval of the people through their representatives. And I stick to that and that's absolutely my point of view."
The Kentucky Senate candidate also criticized the Obama administration's treatment of BP in the wake of the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP.' I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business," he said. "I've heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it's part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it's always got to be someone's fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen."
Paul's Civil Rights Comments Could Embolden Tea Party Critics
The controversy over Paul's comments on federal civil rights legislation has revived suggestions by Tea Party critics that there are racists in the movement, an allegation Paul denies.
The most recent ABC News polls show the perception of racial prejudice in the movement exists, particularly among the movement's opponents. Among all Americans, 28 percent see racial prejudice against President Obama as a substantial factor in support for the Tea Party movement.
Paul clarified his views in a written statement Thursday, saying whatever concerns he may have had about parts of the Civil Rights Act, he has not -- and has never -- called for repealing it.
"Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964," Paul, 47, said.
"Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws," he said.