Rand Paul: The most intriguing man in today’s Republican Party

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By Ruth Marcus,

from The Washington Post,

Rand Paul is the most intriguing — and for Democrats, perhaps the most frightening — figure in today’s Republican Party. The Kentucky senator, who is more than flirting with a 2016 presidential run, is making a smart play for the millennial generation that was key to President Obama’s twin victories and that his own party has convincingly repelled.

Paul’s unlikely pilgrimage to the progressive precincts of the University of California at Berkeley offered the most convincing evidence so far that he is serious about carving out this (sorry, President Clinton) third way space — and a demonstration of his potential appeal to this lost demographic, more attuned to personality than party.

Watch the video of Paul at Berkeley the other day, and you think: This guy doesn’t even look like a Republican, with his jeans and cowboy boots, his tie-but-no-jacket look, his mop-in-need-of-cutting coiffure. Mitt Romney tried to rock those jeans, but no 20-something — no 30-something, actually — looked at his Brylcreemed hair and thought: I want to hang out with this guy.

More important, listen to the substance, and it is difficult to detect much Republican in Paul’s remarks. Indeed, his cross-brand pitch was explicit, and exquisitely attuned to the you’re-not-the-boss-of-me ethos of the younger generation. “Now you may be a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian,” Paul began his speech. “I’m not here to tell you what to be.”

With the laconic delivery and soft bluegrass accent that lent a certain stoner quality to his speech, Paul bonded with the Berkeley audience with pretty much the identical message he delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference the week before, where he won the straw poll.

Most important, Paul’s theory of broadening his party’s appeal beyond its old white-guy base is not limited to issues of privacy. “Remember, Domino’s finally admitted they had bad crust?” he asked. “Republican Party, admit it: Okay, bad crust. We need a different kind of party.”

Paul isn’t alone in understanding the GOP’s Domino’s problem. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gets that the crust is soggy — the GOP’s post-2012 self-autopsy said as much — but hasn’t been able to change it.

Instead, Priebus has been reduced to running an ad campaign featuring a hipster millennial, an African American runner and a student-debt-laden barista spouting platitudes like, “I don’t need anyone to guarantee my success but I don’t think politicians should get in the way of my future.” Seriously, that’s the solution?

Rand Paul at least has a theory about how to fix the crust. He’s operating the most interesting test kitchen in town.

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