As the Republican party tries to figure out how to appeal to the growing demographic groups that they’ve lost by wide margins in the past, Nate Cohn looks at whether Rand Paul can help them build a bridge to such voters. And there are some issues where he differs enough from the usual Republican presidential candidates to at least open the door to that possibility:
Rand Paul’s Republican Party would probably still struggle among young voters, but at least he offers targeted proposals to narrow the gap. For instance, he supports states’ rights to legalize marijuana. Recent polls show that nearly 70 percent of young voters support legalizing marijuana, just as nearly 70 percent of young voters in Washington and Colorado supported initiatives to legalize marijuana last November. Paul also advocates a less aggressive, less costly foreign policy. Millennial voters, having come of age during the Iraq War and without memory of the Cold War, tend to agree: Just 44 percent of 18-29 year olds think the best way to ensure peace is through military strength, compared to 63 percent of voters over age 50. The age gap on foreign policy is even more evident when considering specific policies. Only 28 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds want to “get tough” with China, while twice as many—55 percent—of voters over age 30 support getting tougher with China. Similarly, while 30 percent of voters over age 30 would prioritize avoiding a conflict with Iran over taking a “firm stand” against the country, 49 percent of young voters would prioritize avoiding war.
When combined with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, which Paul also supports, these measures push up against the limits of what the Republican primary electorate could potentially support. Marijuana is a new issue, and the GOP could conceivably go either way: On the one hand, CBS News found that 65 percent of Republicans support allowing state governments to determine the legality of marijuana, compared to just 29 percent who believed the federal government should decide; on the other hand, Quinnipiac and CBS News polls found that 66 percent of Republicans think marijuana should be illegal.
These are all issues on which Rand Paul is correct, in my view, though I would go considerably farther than he would (I’d legalize all drugs, not just allow states to legalize one drug). And they are generally consistent with the views of most progressives, I think. The problem, though, is that Paul’s libertarian streak ends when it comes to the familiar hot button issues the religious right, and the GOP, has long based much its appeal on: Gays and abortion. He’s opposed to marriage equality and on the extreme far right on reproductive rights (he sponsors the fetal personhood amendment, which would not only ban abortion but some types of contraception as well). And that’s something that younger voters aren’t likely to go for.