Evolve, adapt, or die. That is the message U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has for his own party. The potential Republican presidential candidate spoke at Harvard University on Friday before his appearance at the Maine GOP's convention on Saturday. He received a warm reception from the students who attended the speech, hosted by the Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics, as he spoke about the need for the Republican Party to open its doors wider to minority groups and young voters.
"The Republican Party needs to look like the rest of America to have a chance," Paul told his audience.
"That means with tattoos and without tattoos, with earrings and without earrings, black white, brown. You know, you go to a Republican event and it's all white people. Not because we are excluding anybody, but we haven't done a good enough job encouraging people to come into our party."
Paul's candor on the subject is not something one typically hears from a potential Republican presidential candidate, which only enhances one's belief that he is indeed going to run as he builds support in the Northeast and places across the country. His message is different. It is about change, not only change in government, but change in the Republican Party. His message is about being more representative of the American people, and that is something many voters want to hear.
Rand Paul may be able to win over voters in a similar way Barack Obama did in 2008: the right message at the right time.Paul knows the weaknesses the Republican Party has going into another presidential campaign season, which will begin not long after the 2014 elections are all said and done. One of the biggest groups the Republican Party is having the most difficulty connecting with is the one age group Rand Paul is trying to appeal to most: Millennials.
In 2012, Millennials made up 26 percent of the electorate. Without this group, Mitt Romney would have won the presidential election by a couple million votes. By 2020, Millennials will peak at 36 percent of the voting population as demographics shift with older generations. The youngest of Generation Y have reached the minimum voting age and the oldest are in their early-30s (no one can seem to agree on precisely when each generation ends and begins).
Barack Obama had huge success appealing to Millennials in 2008 and 2012, but for the most part it is a generation that has been largely ignored by candidates of both major parties. Democrats tend to assume their support while Republicans have ignored them almost completely while catering to older, more GOP-friendly voters. Paul, however, sees the writing on the wall: if the Republican Party doesn't adapt to changing voter demographics, it may not see the Oval Office for a very long time.
Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in modern U.S. history -- most notably because of a larger immigration population. They are more tolerant of social change and accept the changing face of America, which is becoming more and more non-white. This means Millennials are more likely to support gay marriage, anti-discrimination laws against people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, etc, and support comprehensive immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship for unlawful immigrants currently living in the United States.
Generation Y also entered the work force at one of the worst times in U.S. history (certainly the worst time in modern U.S. history). The last generation to come of age at a worse time was the generation now known as the "Greatest Generation" in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Millennials also entered the work force during the longest period of wage stagnation in American history, a period that shows no sign of ending in the immediate future.This has made starting a career difficult for Millennials and some analysts predict they could be the first generation in American history to have a lower standard of living than their parents.
If people looked deep into Paul's voting record, one may not expect him to be a favorite among most Millennials, but like any election, the message speaks louder than voting records or previous policy positions.
However, while people consider Millennials to be more liberal, they are also more politically independent than older generations by a relatively wide margin. If Paul can win over Millennial voters, it could help him in his pursuit of the GOP nomination, and would make him a threat to Democrats in a general election.
It is not going to be an easy road though because as Paul adopts a message some people view as more inclusive and accepting, others will interpret as concession and surrender.
He may end up losing the support of people who helped get him elected -- namely members of the tea party and more ideologically-focused members of his party's base.
On Saturday, Rand Paul announced his endorsement of Maine's Republican senator, Susan Collins, at the Maine Republican convention, a move that likely helped him with Northeastern Republicans, but was not so well received by more conservative members of the party or some libertarians. Collins is popular with independents and moderate Republicans, but considered an "establishment Republican" or even a "RINO" (Republican In Name Only) by many conservative Republicans.
Paul won the straw poll at the convention with 26 percent of the vote. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) came in second with 14 percent. Only time will tell if Paul's new message gains further traction and it is still a long road to 2016.
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