THIS IS an anti-establishment year, and no one personifies that better than Rand Paul. He trounced his establishment-backed opponent in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary by railing against Washington and the GOP establishment.

But it turns out that the establishment isn't completely useless. It would have advised that it was a bad idea for a conservative like Paul to go back on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC so soon after his victory.

Maddow quizzed Paul about his views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul said that the federal government shouldn't be telling private businesses whether they could discriminate. He hated racism as much as anyone, he said, but believes that businesses that discriminate should be forced to change through private action: criticism, boycotts and the like.

As a practical matter, that ignores history and behavior of the time. But as a political matter, this just isn't something a candidate says out loud - even if he believes it. At worst, it makes him seem to take racism lightly, at best, it's distracting. Before lunch, Paul had put out a statement that he would not support the repeal of the law.

This is what it looks like when the anti-establishment bumps up against the establishment. Now that Paul is the official GOP nominee, he has a higher profile.

He's added to his newsworthiness by claiming his campaign is at the vanguard of the Tea Party movement. That gives him a higher profile still. It also invites the Democratic Party to try to make him the symbol of the entire GOP and means the Republican establishment may have to answer for the things he says.

Democratic operatives must have melted their servers with all the e-mails they sent to reporters questioning Paul's views on race and his libertarian beliefs. Were they so extreme that he would not support one of the signature laws of American equality?

Republicans rushed to distance themselves. Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Jim DeMint had backed different candidates in the Kentucky primary, but they were united in trying to move away from Paul's remarks.

As a part of the damage control, Republicans pointed out that there are sitting Democrats who opposed the 1964 bill, including Robert Byrd, who filibustered it for 14 hours straight.

But Byrd and current Democrats don't hold those views now. For his part, Paul argues that a 1964 law would not be relevant to issues he'd face as a senator. But that's not exactly right. The questions about his views on the Civil Rights Act grow out of his present-day views about limits on government intervention.

That's always an issue in Washington, especially as the Senate debated a bill to regulate financial institutions. It involves just how far government can go to regulate private enterprise.

Democrats are pressing Paul hard for several reasons. It's not just that they want to win his seat. They want to make every Republican defend Paul. Democrats need black turnout to be high in November. Getting into a debate about civil rights would help. But they'll also try to keep Republicans responding to Paul's other non-establishment views - like the need to abolish much of the federal government, including the Federal Reserve and Social Security.

Parties always try to do this with extreme figures: They impute their views to the party as a whole. Long after she stopped being a politician and became a political celebrity, Democrats are still trying to make Republicans answer for Sarah Palin. They'll have an easier time with Paul because before they started moving away, Republican officials were rushing toward him.

Why? Because Paul is a leading light in the Tea Party movement. When he won, he claimed victory in their name. Tea Party activists don't like Washington. If you're a Washington pol you want to stay alive, you need to look like you're on their team. But elections are also made up of suburban and moderate voters who might think it strange to be against part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But the Democrats might not get much more out of Paul's collection of exciting quotes. Democrats tried the same thing with DeMint, who once said single moms shouldn't teach in South Carolina schools. DeMint is now considered a rising star in the party as a voice for the populist conservatives. In other words, he's now a member of the establishment. He might have some advice for the man who hopes to be his colleague.

John Dickerson is the chief political correspondent for Slate (Slate.com), where this first appeared. E-mail him