SIMI VALLEY — Rounding out a week of visits with technology company executives and potential 2016 donors in California, Sen.Rand Paul told Republicans Friday night that the GOP would continue to lose California and other states on the West Coast if it did not adopt a more welcoming attitude toward Latinos and make a more appealing pitch to black voters through issues like school choice and education reform.
Outlining his vision for the growth of the Republican Party to a sold-out crowd at theRonald ReaganPresidential Library, the senator from Kentucky said he had been able to stir interest among young voters -- who otherwise have fled the Republican Party -- with his brand of libertarian and conservative politics and his frequent assertion that government “is out of control.”
He noted that his March filibuster on theObamaadministration’s use of drones — a 13-hour event that made him, at least briefly, a Twitter sensation and something of a folk hero — drew a huge audience on CSPAN, including many young people.
At the same time, Paul’s sharp criticism Friday evening of President Obama, who is enormously popular in California, showed his potential appeal in more traditional Republican circles if he decides to run for president in 2016. In Iowa in early May, he targeted former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last September. On Friday night, a minute after taking the podium, he began drilling the Obama administration over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny last year.
“You know, I hardly know where to start. It’s kind of like Old MacDonald’s farm of scandals,” said Paul, who is the son of formerRep. Ron Paulof Texas. “Here a scandal, there a scandal, everywhere a scandal. But you don’t have to fear. The president has now asked [Atty. Gen.] Eric Holder to investigate Eric Holder.
"That can only work out well.”
Paul went on to challenge Obama to “fire and prosecute anyone who used government power to punish political opponents.”
“I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, there is something profoundly un-American about using the brute force of government to bully someone,” Paul said. “And I’m dead serious when I say, if the president doesn’t hold someone accountable, I think he will have lost the moral authority to govern effectively.”
Paul did not spare his own party from criticism, noting the GOP’s failure to draw in minority voters in recent elections. He said the party could win in states like California by ending “welfare to big business” and tackling “overregulation” in an effort to create more jobs.
“We need to get away from the perception that we only care about big business and rich people,” he said. Republicans, he added, could make inroads by being more innovative on issues like education, championing school choice and reforms to turn around failing schools.
“The educational establishment has really has given up on many blacks and Latinos,” Paul said. “We can come in to the rescue because they are not willing to change anything to make education better.”
Through school choice and granting more local power to schools, he said, “We can be the people who come in and rescue people from a tragic life where the schools don’t serve them any good.”
Paul has also expressed openness to the immigration legislation that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is crafting in the U.S. Senate, but he has not been one of the leaders on that effort as potential rival Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, has been. “Latinos will come to the GOP when we treat them with dignity,” Paul said Friday.
The first-term senator added that Republicans have also turned off more progressive voters, particularly in California, with their stance on environmental issues. “I bike, I hike, I kayak, I compost,” he said listing his credentials, to laughter, and adding that he also plants trees and has tried without much success to grow a giant sequoia in his Kentucky yard.
Paul’s recipes for success mimic those offered for years by candidates and strategists in the state, to no avail. Other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to power in a quirky recall election, California hasn’t elected a Republican statewide since 1998. The state has not sided with the GOP in a presidential contest since 1988. The party commands less than one-third of the state's registered voters.
Paul’s Simi Valley speech — which followed a recent one by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another potential 2016 contender — was just the latest in a string of high-profile events for him within GOP circles and in early primary and caucus states.
He spoke to a group of 500 activists in early May in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the state party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, and he recently addressed a Republican Party gathering in New Hampshire. Earlier this week, Paul met with executives at Facebook and Google in Silicon Valley and participated in a chat with Google employees that touched on technology policy and other issues.
On Friday afternoon, Paul also signed copies of his new book, “Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans are Being Harassed, Abused and Imprisoned by the Feds” at the Reagan Library store before delivering his speech and taking written questions from the audience.
As usual, Paul was coy Friday about whether he harbors presidential ambitions. When the event moderator asked him at the end of his speech “what it would take” for him to run, he smiled and gestured to his wife: “I’ve got to get permission of the boss, who’s sitting in the first row there,” he said, prompting applause.
Paul acknowledged, however, that he hasn’t been shy about his interest in the White House and noted that a potential run for the presidency would allow him to “get to a great stage like this and influence the debate.”
“The Republican Party is losing the West Coast — all of it, completely, every time now. We’re losing all of New England, every time,” he said. “We can’t win Illinois, so I think we do need people talking about how the party has to change to become a bigger, more inclusive party.” He added that some Californians might be drawn to his brand of libertarian politics even though he may be more conservative on social issues.
“I think the party can be big enough to allow people who don’t all agree on every issue,” he said.