For any Republican who aspires to be president, a trip to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California is a must.
No doubt, this fact is not lost on Rand Paul, who made the “pilgrimage” as Politico put it, on Friday to speak at this shrine to the GOP’s most successful politician.
Reaching out beyond the GOP base where much of his support lies, Paul sounded positively reasonable as he called for the Republican party to be more inclusive, back some kind of immigration reform, and become more eco-friendly. Paul also expressed some surprisingly warm sentiments about President Obama.
“When the Republican Party looks like the rest of America, we will win again,” the Kentucky senator told a crowd in Simi Valley, Calif. “When we have people with tattoos and without tattoos, with ties and without ties, with suits and in blue jeans, then we win nationally.”
During a question-and-answer session, Paul said the GOP must “adapt, evolve or die.”
“If we want to win nationally again, we will have to reach out to a diverse nation and welcome African Americans, Asians, Latinos into our party,” he said. “Latinos will come to the GOP when we treat them with dignity, when we embrace immigrants as hard workers who are an asset to our country.”
Paul’s comments come as the party’s base remains leery of immigration reform, which they see as a pathway for amnesty, and Republicans in the Capitol markup draft legislation. Paul has said he would like to amend the bill being considered, which insulates him somewhat if the measure fails.
Soon after, he warned that the party must stay true to core convictions.
“Reagan never diluted what he had to say,” said Paul. “He didn’t say, ‘Maybe if you get time, maybe you could think about tearing that wall down.’ We need to be the party of passion.”
Paul’s triangulation on immigration reform — he’s for it, but not in its present form, while supporting legal immigrants — is good politics. But if he ends up voting for any kind of immigration reform, there are plenty on the right who would lump him in with their former hero Senator Marco Rubio and it could damage his standing with some conservatives.
But Paul, like Rubio, is looking beyond playing ball with the GOP conservative base and is seeking to broaden his appeal. One way to do that is by saying nice things about President Obama, who many independents like personally while opposing his policies.
Paul also volunteered a level of admiration for President Barack Obama – even if he also criticizes his job performance. He recalled riding with him aboard Air Force One and talking about bridge funding.
“I like the president,” he said. “I don’t like his politics. I don’t like his policies. But I do like him.”
Predictably, many commenters to the article took Paul to task for that statement. One commenter dissented:
That’s right, to be a true conservative, you need to have hate in your heart for the President, for immigrants, for liberals and for Democrats. Paul said nothing that is in any way anti-conservative, but a tone that doesn’t ring of contempt is somehow anathema to the “true” conservatives.
Perhaps that is the most surprising change in Rand Paul over these last few months — a change in tone and temperament. Paul was never a bomb thrower, but neither was he a conciliator. But this is what he said about environmentalism:
He pronounced himself supportive of well-thought-out regulations on oil pipelines and touted his own eco-friendly lifestyle choices.
“I am a libertarian-conservative who spends most of my free time outdoors,” Paul said during his 30-minute speech in Simi Valley, Calif. “I bike and hike and kayak. I compost. I plant trees. In fact, I have a giant Sequoia I’m trying to grow in Kentucky.
“Republicans care just as deeply about the environment as Democrats but we also care about jobs,” he added. “We want common sense regulations to be balanced with economic growth and jobs.”
But Paul, a likely 2016 candidate for president, said “to win in California and other bluish states, Republicans will have to change current perceptions.”
The senator praised Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which he read last year, about growing and harvesting one’s own food and buying locally. He said his family tries to buy as much as they can from a local farmer’s market, but they still shop at the supermarket, too.
Paul also cited Joel Salatin’s “Folks, this Ain’t Normal,” another book about sustainable farming.
Is conservatism and “sustainability” incompatible? Not if it is voluntary. This appears to be what Paul is calling for — something akin to Russell Kirk’s “voluntary society” in which sustainability becomes the opposite of collectivism and centralization and people choose — or don’t choose — to live the sustainable lifestyle. It’s when sustainability becomes compulsory that it threatens us.
If nothing else, Rand Paul is going to be one of the most interesting GOP candidates to emerge in 2016.