Nothing rallies Republicans like a good old religious debate in the US. Throw in an upcoming presidential election and suddenly, everyone wants to say something.
But one potential Republican candidate is conspicuously silent on one of the loudest religious debates raging in the country.
It is a smart move that may pay dividends on the road to the White House, according to one political analyst.
The latest religious uproar concerns a law signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Its original wording caused a massive backlash after activists argued it would give Indiana businesses the right to refuse service to gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals if the business determined that their orientation went against their religious beliefs.
It was amended and now gives some protection for people on the basis of sexual orientation. Before it was altered, potential Republican candidates for president jumped to the law’s defence.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the most prominent official candidate for president so far, leapt out in favour of it saying: “Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty”. Other possible candidates like Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Texas Governor Rick Perry also chimed in quickly with their support.
But one potential Republican hopeful has not said a word about the law. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is expected to announce his candidacy next week.
Sergio Gor, Paul’s communications director, confirmed to DC Dispatches he “has no comment” on the Indiana law. It is an unusual move for the libertarian lawmaker who rarely shies away from controversy.
Like many conservatives in the US, Paul is no fan of gay rights, publicly opposing issues like same-sex marriage. But Americans’ growing support for the rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens may hurt some Republicans in close races, particularly among young voters.
That could be one of the reasons why Paul is sitting this one out. One political analyst calls that a “smart political calculation from a smart political player”.
John Hudak, from the Brookings Institution, notes that while the temptation for Republicans to get on the record on the Indiana law may be great, they should take notice of his restraint.
“Paul is operating according to a widely undervalued rule in politics,” says Hudak. “If you don’t have anything politically expedient to say, don’t say anything at all.”