When Rand Paul spoke to a packed ballroom of conservative activists at CPAC last year, he tagged the Obama administration as “completely out of control.” But he saved some of his harshest criticism for his own party, calling the GOP of old “stale and moss covered,” and insisting that the Republican Party has to change.
One year later, Paul is again speaking to CPAC, but this time he’s more than the “Stand with Rand” senator who had just filibustered an Obama nominee for 13 hours to protest drone policy. He is now the de facto head of the libertarian wing of the party, still pushing the GOP to broaden its message and its membership, and serious enough about running for president that his allies are working to change the Kentucky law that would bar him from running for president and his Senate seat simultaneously in 2016.
If things go Rand Paul’s way, national Republicans will follow the lead of Nathan Haney, the executive director of the Jefferson County, Kentucky Republican Party, who held an event last week for the local GOP to meet minority and low-income voters in Louisville, a city that has not had a Republican mayor in more than 50 years.
“We’re tired of losing,” says Haney. Although Republicans dominate the federal offices in Kentucky, Democrats have held one or both houses of the state legislature for nearly a century, while just two Republicans have occupied the governor’s mansion since 1947. “At some point you have to look in the mirror and say what is it that we’re doing wrong?”
That bit of soul searching, rare for Republicans at the national level, has come to Jefferson County though the example of the state’s junior senator, Paul. “What we have found in the time that he’s been a senator is that Senator Paul has made it his goal to grow the party, nationwide and at the local level,” Haney said, pointing to Paul’s trips to inner-city Detroit, as well as historically black colleges across the country and poverty-ridden areas of Kentucky where Republicans rarely make inroads.
But beyond his itineraries, Paul has also used his three years of votes and visibility in the U.S. Senate, including a 13-hour filibuster, to blow up the checklist of exactly what it means to be a conservative Republican.
While Paul has been aggressively pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and almost rabidly small government, he has also staked out positions on privacy, intervention overseas, and mandatory drug sentencing that defy both his party’s current instincts and its leaders in Washington.
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