SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Potential 2016 presidential hopeful Rand Paul scanned the packed ballroom of fellow Republicans, most of them older and white, and declared Saturday that their party’s makeup needs to change if the GOP is to have any hope of recapturing the White House.
“We need a bigger party. We need a party that looks like America,’’ said Paul, currently a U.S. senator from Kentucky, during the closing banquet for the Missouri Republican Party’s Lincoln Days festivities, held this year in Springfield.
“We need a more diverse party,” he said. “People with tattoos, and without tattoos. With earrings, and without earrings.”
The crowd chuckled when Paul observed, with a tone of hope, that he thought he’d seen a man in the room with a ponytail. “We also need white, black, brown,’’ Paul said. “We need to be a more accepting party.”
The Republican message needs to change as well, he said. Earlier, he had told reporters that “Republicans need to have a message that resonates in a bigger and better way.”
As an example, Paul highlighted his proposal to create “economic freedom zones’’ in high unemployment areas and to finance the programs by dramatically cutting taxes in the zone.
Paul told the crowd that only by growing the party will it be able to promote successfully the longstanding GOP message of less government and more personal freedom. Among other things, he called for more school choice and fewer government regulations.
He also called for easing the U.S. laws against drugs, which Paul said has led to drug-users getting stiffer sentences than people convicted of more serious crimes. "The war on drugs has had a disproportionate effect on people of color,” he explained. While emphasizing that he opposed legalization of drugs, the senator said, "We’ve gone overboard on some of this stuff.”
Federal government 'out of control'
To make his case, Paul spent most of his 25-minute speech highlighting what he viewed as the stakes: wasted federal spending and government overreach.
His examples ranged from a magician required to develop an evacuation plan for a rabbit in his act, to a farm family in Nixa, Mo., which faced hefty federal fines because a child had been breeding rabbits, after receiving improper information on the type of permit needed from the federal Department of Agriculture.
“The government is out of control and we’ve got to get it back,” Paul said. But to succeed, he went on, the GOP must revamp its base and its image.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., reaffirmed that message. “We are a big party with big ideas,’’ he said. But to meet the future, Blunt suggested the GOP look to the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan so energized young people that on many college campuses, “you couldn’t find the Young Democrats.’’
Blunt said that Republicans have an opportunity now to win over youth once again, as polls have shown that some young people are losing faith in President Barack Obama, who won with support from young voters in 2008 and 2012.
A key GOP message, he added, should be aimed at the Democrats’ continued belief in big government. “Only government big enough to give you anything you want is big enough to take everything you have,’’ Blunt said.
He asserted that Democrats also are engaging in class warfare by advocating that “when the elevator is not working, throw rocks at the penthouse.”
Republicans, said Blunt, should emphasize that they believe the best economic course is “to fix the elevator.”
Meanwhile, Paul deflected questions about his own political plans for 2016. When a reporter asked if he was considering a run for the White House, the senator quipped that he first needed to ask his wife.