Why Republicans should follow Rand Paul’s lead

The Republican Party seems poised for a successful mid-term election. There has even been talk of a building “Republican wave,” should voter dissatisfaction intensify and solidify, though its far too early to say for sure what will happen.

But if a “Republican wave” does indeed happen this fall and the party takes control of the Senate, a goal that has proved to be out of reach in the past two cycles, GOP leaders and talking heads should be cautious in overstating what it means.

Yes, President Barack Obama is plagued by low approval ratings and rejection of Obamacare, his signature domestic achievement. Voters aren’t too thrilled about the state of the economy or his handling of foreign policy.

But Republicans must realize that electoral success this doesn’t mean that voters have embraced the party, as polls almost universally show. In a two-party system at a time of malaise, the party not in control is the beneficiary of voter anger. This was true in 2006 when Democrats won control of Congress. It was true in 2010 when Republicans gained 63 seats on their way to winning the House of Representatives.

There is no denying that the Republican Party has a very real messaging problem, and party leaders realize it. That’s why the Republican National Committee released a report, The Growth and Opportunity Project, to try to figure out what went wrong in the 2012 election as well as try to find solutions to expand its reach.

Though that “autopsy,” so to speak, raised some excellent points, it alienated many of the grassroots activists that compromise part of the Republican base.

It’s true that the Republican Party must expand its reach to be successful in future elections, but the message it hopes to spread doesn’t have to be a top-down approach carefully tailored by political consultants and strategists. It has to be something real and authentic — a bottom-up approach, if you will.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has taken the latter approach. He’s spoken to audiences that aren’t usually receptive to what a Republican politician has to say, and he’s done so by discussing issues that are outside the usual party talking points.

In April 2013, for example, Paul highlighted the need for criminal justice reform and the unfairness of nation’s drug laws to Americans from all walks of life at Howard University, a historically black college. His message this audience, one that most Republicans would avoid, was well-received.

Paul visited Detroit, one of America’s most impoverished cities, late last year to discuss community empowerment by easing heavy-handed federal tax and regulatory policies so that struggling cities can pave their own path to prosperity. That speech drew interest from the NAACP, which invited the Kentucky Republican to speak to the organization.

More recently, just this week, in fact, Paul visited the University of California-Berkeley, which isn’t exactly a bastion of conservatism, to discuss the National Security Agency and its virtually unchecked domestic surveillance programs. He didn’t just frame the message to this crowd of young people as a fight against the government, but rather as fight for their liberty. The result was a standing ovation.

There aren’t many Republican politicians who can excite crowds at both a school known for its far-left radicalism and a conservative action conference by presenting the exact same message.

Of the scandals and controversies that have come to pass in recent month, the revelations about the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs have stuck in the public’s mind. Young voters, especially, have reacted to this controversy. CNN, for example, found that President Obama’s approval rating fell by 15 points among voters in the wake of the disclosures about the NSA programs.

It’s true that Paul is likely running for president in 2016, but the message about more than what may or may not happen a year or two from now. Republicans would do well to pay attention to how the senator is presenting his message and to whom he’s presenting it.

Preaching to the choir only goes so far. Trying to revive the failed foreign policy of a failed presidency will be rejected. To be viable, Republicans have to follow Paul’s lead. It may take some time for these outreach efforts to bear fruit after years of neglect, but there are gains to be made with minorities and millennials and sowing seeds now will ensure that the GOP is viable in the future.

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