Rand Paul, The GOP, And The Young

Molly Ball captures the atmosphere at CPAC during Rand Paul’s speech:

Though CPAC draws right-wingers of all stripes, from Oliver North to Santorum to a guy on stilts in a Ronald Reagan costume, it is increasingly dominated by libertarians, a combined result of their passionate engagement in movement politics and the discount rates the conference offers to college students. That makes it, for Paul, something of a hometown crowd. On Saturday, he won the conference’s straw poll in a landslide. The enormous ballroom at the convention center in the Washington suburbs was crammed with an audience of thousands for his speech on Friday, which Paul devoted exclusively to civil-liberties issues.

Jonathan Coppage recaps the speech:

Paul castigated a progressive majoritarianism run amok, whose free-floating definition of legitimacy puts all minorities at risk, whether the racial minorities persecuted in generations past, or minorities of ideas at risk in the present day. He made frequent reference to his fight against the security state’s overreaches, and insisted upon the imperative importance of specific warrants and open, free trials instead of general warrants and secret determinations of guilt. Finally, Paul closed on a muscular message rejecting the gradualist’s insistence on a hesitant program of changes, telling the CPAC crowd that their job is not to minimize liberty lost, but to maximize liberty.

I find myself wanting Paul to go the distance in the 2016 primaries. No, that’s not because I want Clinton to win (if she’s the Democratic nominee). It’s because Paul would facilitate a younger demographic for Republicans, and that can only be good – for the GOP and the rest of us.

Perhaps the most crippling disadvantage the GOP now has is its dependence on seniors for political clout. We know just how divergent Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 12.38.49 PMtoday’s generations are – to such an extent that they are effectively foreign countries to each other. 61 percent of Millennials are white, compared with over 80 percent for the pre-boomers – creating an entirely different rite of passage into adulthood. 26 percent are married, compared with 65 percent of pre-boomers and 48 percent of boomers. Millennials have far less trust in institutions, including political parties, and on social issues, Millennials are far more libertarian than their elders: marriage equality is simply a given for them, and legalizing weed a no-brainer.

On current trends, the GOP has close to no chance of winning over this demographic unless it loses its discomfort with non-whites and gays, if it pledges a re-run of George W Bush’s foreign policy, if it keeps championing the war on drugs, or the surveillance state. The widening generational gap between the parties is already unprecedented in modern times. And one segment of the voters is dying, and the other is gaining strength. Unless the GOP manages to find a way to re-brand itself with the next generation, it is facing an existence on life-support – and each pandering message to the Fox News demo will only serve to alienate Millennials.

Rand Paul is one answer to this. If he were to run against the archetypal boomer, Hillary Clinton, around the themes of individual liberty at home and non-interventionism abroad, he could immediately put the GOP on the Millennial side of this generational struggle. Even if he were crushed by Clinton, the GOP’s image would be re-made in a way much more attractive to the under-30s.

His main problem, it seems to me, is racial.

The libertarian position on the Civil Rights Act, while bracing as an intellectual critique of expansive government, is nonetheless toxic to the next generation. Ditto the Republican base’s view on immigration. And there is the problem of the unbearable whiteness of the Libertarian coalition:

A poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute in October 2013 showed that 22 percent of Americans consider themselves libertarian or lean libertarian. Forty-five percent of libertarians side with Republicans, while 5 percent identify as Democrats. Fifty-three percent of libertarians consider themselves reliable primary voters. … As Claire Thompson noted in February 2012, self-described libertarians trend “white, male, and financially secure.” Which happens to be how much of the party writ large trends. If they can only keep the twentysomethings that look like them on board, the Republican Party is going to continue to attract fewer and fewer members of the electorate. Libertarians may grow, but right now, trending toward the Rand model doesn’t seem the safest outreach.

Here’s Michelle Cottle’s take on Paul’s speech:

Ironically, despite all the love, Rand didn’t bring his A game. He was hoarse, he looked tired, and his speech (basic theme: government tyranny is bad) wasn’t particularly soaring. Not that he is ever a really electrifying orator. He tends toward the wonky, goes heavy on historical references, and likes to quote folks like Montesquieu.

But nobody cared. The crowd loved him. These were his people, and they were whooping and hollering and chanting and fist-pumping like it was Saturday night at the roller derby. By the time Rand wrapped it all up by calling on the crowd to “Stand with me! Stand together for liberty!” at least half the room would have followed him down to the gates of hell if he’d asked.

If I were among the conservative movement’s values voters or hawks, I’d be getting mighty nervous right about now.

And if I were a Republican, I’d be feeling a few twinges of hope.