Fresh off a surprise win in a Michigan straw poll, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) criticized former neurosurgeon Ben Carson's argument that a Muslim could not be "in charge of this nation."
"Article VI of the Constitution says there won’t be a religious test," Paul said in an interview. "I think the answer is that simple."
Carson made the remarks first in an interview with Meet the Press. Asked by host Chuck Todd if Islam was "consistent with the Constitution," Carson said it wasn't. In a subsequent interview with The Hill's Jon Easley, Carson explained that he didn't think "Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country."
Paul had a better weekend -- or at least a more dramatic improvement in fortunes. The Mackinac policy conference began the bizarre story of key Michigan strategist John Yob getting punched by a Rubio strategist. It ended with 22 percent of the conference's straw poll vote going to Paul, his second consecutive victory in a poll that had a better-than-typical record of proving grassroots support. (Michigan-born Mitt Romney always did well in the poll, and won the state twice.)
"I'd attribute it to our organizational prowess, to our ground game, to our ability to excite the youth vote," Paul said. "Our victory there was primarily due to getting a youth crowd to show. We had probably 200 kids at a rally around the conference. I think the issues we’ve been talking about – criminal justice reform, that it’s crazy to put people in jail for marijuana, we need a new foreign policy -- have been resonating with young people."
Paul has triumphed in other straw polls, and in the lead-up to Mackinac his campaign proudly announced that more than 300 "Students for Rand" chapters had been chartered on campuses. He wondered aloud whether the showing in Michigan, coupled with the Reagan Presidential Library debate, represented the end of Donald Trump's moment.
"I think Trump got almost no votes," he said. "Every other campaign organized and tried to get supporters there. What we’re going to find is a reshuffling of the deck. To show how dramatically it’s reshuffled, you can look at polls that showed Walker at 22 percent a few months ago, and see that he's at 0 percent today. Fiorina has greatly increased her numbers. As far as Trump goes, I think we’ll probably be done in the very near future with his domination of the polls. We can begin to rise."
Michigan, which is voting a bit later in the 2016 cycle than it has in the past, offers unique opportunities to a candidate like Paul. Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Republicans courted Michigan's Arab and Muslim voters, and made real inroads on behalf of George W. Bush. The war on terror, and the impression of many Muslims that they were being targeted, sent Muslim voters back into the Democratic camp. Still, when asked about Texas student Ahmed Mohamed's suspension over a home-made clock that administrators mistook for a bomb, Paul was circumspect.
"I didn’t really feel like there was a national story there," said Paul. "There’s common sense in sending a kid home for the day if something looks like a bomb. Now, kicking somebody out of school would be an inappropriate response. And we do that all the time, kicking out of school for an entire year because they have some marijuana or they've broken some rule. We've got to be concerned about overzealous responses like that."