Rand Paul Has an Unnerving Vision for the Future of the GOP

Kentucky senator and potential 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul knows Republicans need to change things to win the presidency. His solution? Move the party even further to the right.

Paul shared the idea during a speech in Iowa on Saturday. "There are people who say we need to be more moderate. I couldn't disagree more," he told the crowd, adding, "I think the core of our message: We can be even more bold."

Because if there's anything we learned from 2012 (and every year in Congress recently), it's that the Republican party is way too moderate.

The conservative storyline: Paul's comments aren't brand new. It's a hypothesis that's been batted around since Romney lost two years ago — if he'd been more conservative, he would have won.

Here's Rush Limbaugh talking about three million missing voters; here's RedState calling it four million. Romney pulled in fewer right-leaning voters then Bush and McCain, voters that (the theory goes) may have come out to the polls for a conservative firebrand. (It should be noted that Mitt Romney actually got more popular votes than McCain.)

Obama himself dropped nearly four million votes from 2008 to 2012. Was that because he wasn't liberal enough? Or were those moderate voters who would have gone for a Republican candidate out of Rand Paul's nightmares? These conservative post-mortems don't address it.

In his Iowa speech, Paul invoked another Republican legend: "When Ronald Reagan won a landslide, he ran unabashedly ... that's what we need." If only Republicans had another Reagan, Paul wishes, who could who could raise taxes, triple the federal deficit and offer amnesty to illegal immigrants. If Reagan were running now, Paul might want him thrown out of the party.

Parties of extremes: It's not just that Republicans are moving further right. Both parties have been steadily drifting apart for the past few decades, as shown by this Pew analysis of votes in Congress.

Image credit: Pew Research Center

No wonder the past few years of Congress have been among the least productive in history. We're not totally free from blame, though — Pew also found that Americans who identify with a particular political party have also become more polarized.

So maybe Paul is onto something when he calls for more extreme presidential candidates. If Americans themselves are getting more polarized, maybe the winning strategy is to just aim for the, say, 53% of voters who might end up agreeing with you? Oh wait:


During his speech, Paul looked back at previous Republican candidates and said, "The definition of insanity is thinking the same thing will get you different results." He's right in one way: Republican presidential candidates have certainly done their best to embody the definition of insanity.

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Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

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