After the last presidential election — one which shouldn’t have seen an incumbent Barack Obama win so handily — the search has been on for the soul of the GOP. As immigration continues to shift the demographics of the vote and the country moves left on social issues, finding a candidate who represents traditional American values but can bridge the gap and reach young voters has become an increasingly complex challenge.
Earlier this week, Senator Rand Paul gave a speech at the Berkeley Forum. The talk was on NSA spying and the right to privacy. It was informative, more than a little disconcerting, and unflinchingly honest.
Senator Paul received a standing ovation.
Why does this matter? While it’s difficult to get an exact read on a student body’s ideological orientation, Berkeley has a reputation for being significantly left-of-center. In a media release back in 2005, the college stated that “Liberal freshman outnumber conservatives at Berkeley by more than 4 to 1″.
And yet Senator Paul, a strict constitutionalist, gets an extremely positive response from attendees at the Berkeley Forum, a self-described “non-partisan, student-run organization”.
In political circles, we hear frequent use of the phrase “reaching across the aisle”. But this marks something bigger. Senator Paul is reaching across disparate demographic groups and uniting Americans on core principles that a majority can agree on. Liberty. Privacy. Non-interventionist foreign policy. The importance of protecting the 4th Amendment. The right to not be spied on or targeted for assassination by one’s own government.
Paul is certainly controversial with some conservatives who would prefer to see more centralized authority on moral issues. He’s a big champion of the 10th Amendment, which would send a lot of decisions important to conservatives — like abortion — back to the states. (For the record, Paul is outspokenly pro-life.) He thinks same-sex marriage is also is an issue for the states. These are issues of pragmatism in public policy that Catholics can, in good conscience, disagree on.
But if his victory in the CPAC straw poll — his second year in a row — is any indication, Paul is winning the approval of American Conservatives. This year, he took home 31% of the vote, leaving Ted Cruz in a distant second with just 11%.
And Paul isn’t just looking for conservative voters. He’s reaching out to minorities. He’s changing the opinion of pundits like Bill Maher. And research suggests that if Republicans can win over Millennial voters, who lean Democrat, it will take someone like Paul to make it happen.
With mid-terms this year acting as a bellwether for 2016, Rand Paul may continue a strong early surge as a frontrunner for the path forward for the GOP in presidential politics.
Based on what I’ve seen of him so far, I certainly hope so.