GOPers Back Away From Rand Paul Dust-Up: He’s A ‘Novice’! (VIDEO)

If it looked like things were tough for Kentucky’s Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul at the end of the week, they didn’t get much easier this weekend. He canceled a scheduled interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, which returned the favor with a segment wondering if his bad week left him a “weaker candidate than he was Tuesday night” when he walloped his rival Trey Grayson in the GOP primary.

Protesters turned out at the Paul-Grayson unity rally on Saturday, local GOPers said he had hit a “rocky start” and top Republicans in Washington did not seem eager to defend the party’s newly crowned nominee, distancing themselves from Paul’s remarks about the Civil Rights Act.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele was the harshest, saying on Fox News Sunday in response to Paul’s comments on discrimination that the country already has “litigated the issue of separate but equal” and praising his own Republican party on civil rights. “I think his philosophy is misplaced in these times … But I think in this case Rand Paul’s philosophy got in the way of reality,” Steele said.Steele later said on ABC’s This Week that he “can’t condemn a person’s view” and that it was up to the people of Kentucky to judge whether they want to elect someone with such a view.

Asked repeatedly by host Jake Tapper if he was “comfortable” with what Paul said, Steele responded, “I am not comfortable with a lot of things, but it doesn’t matter what I’m comfortable with and not comfortable with. I don’t vote in that election. The people of Kentucky will.”

For his part, Paul said in a local interview he’s “imperfect” and didn’t explain what he meant well.

Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on Meet the Press yesterday that Paul is a “novice,” and candidates new to the national stage “occasionally stumble on questions.” Cornyn (R-TX) said that candidates who are not professional politicians might have to backtrack when articulating their philosophy. Cornyn didn’t officially back Paul’s rival Grayson in the primary, but Grayson was the favorite of official Washington while Paul ran an insurgent campaign.

“The fact of the matter is, Rand Paul’s leading– his opponent in the– in the general election by 25 points,” Cornyn said. Host David Gregory followed up by asking if Paul’s views concern him, and Cornyn’s response was, “I don’t know what all his views are.”

A much ballyhooed unity rally in Frankfort Saturday lasted less than an hour and a few hundred party faithful turned out. Paul met privately with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had staked his own reputation on backing Grayson but who said the party was united.

Paul spoke for four minutes and made no mention of the Civil Rights Act dust-up, according to local press accounts, and Grayson said briefly that his job was to send a message of “unity” to the party. Several stories included interviews with local GOPers confirming what we’d found in our reporting Friday, that many Kentucky Republicans feel like Paul was set up by the liberal national press. But in an unwelcome development, many of the stories quoted protesters calling Paul a “Klan’s man” or focused on the controversy.

Politico quoted Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) as saying that Paul would have been better off resting after the primary. “He should have taken some time,” Guthrie said, while local Republican chairman and a former Grayson backer Bill Betson called it “a little bit of a rocky start.”

“We have somebody new in the political scene and we have to get through it,” Betson told Politico.

Gregory closed “Meet the Press” Sunday by saying that Paul’s rough-and-tumble week is “raising doubts about his prospects for the fall.” But Paul doesn’t seem to mind — he’s got one Karl Rove whispering in his ear that doing national television interviews isn’t the best idea. Politico reported that Rove phoned Paul’s campaign manager to say he was “hurting himself with all the exposure.”

Watch a highlight reel made by TPM’s Jillian Rayfield about Paul’s rough weekend: