Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will attempt to sell the Republican Party to the students of Howard University Wednesday, making his first visit to a historically black university as part of an effort to reach out to youth and minority voters.
As we reported last week, Paul’s speech will focus on the history of African Americans within the Republican Party, as well as economic opportunity, school choice, civil liberties, and reforming drug laws — issues that Paul believes will resonate with his audience of young, predominantly black students.
“Some of the speech…will be about economic opportunity, how I think the Republican Party offer more than subsistence,” Paul said in an interview with Business Insider Monday. “I want to try to convince folks that we want to offer people jobs by the millions and that our policies would create millions of jobs.”
“We’ll also talk about school choice,” he added, “in the sense that one of the greatest disservices to the African American community in our country currently is the abysmal state of education in many communities.”
The speech will put into practice some of the recommendations of the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project,” which emphasised the need to step up GOP outreach to youth and minority voters. By engaging young black voters with a message specifically tailored to them, Paul sets himself up as a leader of the party’s rebranding effort and bolsters his cred as a coalition-builder in advance of a potential 2016 presidential run.
“It’s not so easy as saying ‘Oh we didn’t do well with youth voters, so weaned to learn what kind of music they like,'” Paul said Monday. “Ideas do make a difference. I think that the idea of electing people who believe in a less aggressive foreign policy resonates with the youth, because the youth are the ones who fight the wars. And I think mandatory minimums and incarcerating people for nonviolent crime…resonates with the youth as well.”
This focus on drug policy reform is particularly interesting, as the issue may provide fertile ground for libertarian-leaning Republicans like Paul to appeal to youth voters. A recent Pew poll found that 65 per cent of Millennial voters are in favour of legalizing marijuana, and a full 72 per cent of Americans think that federal enforcement of marijuana laws “cost more than they are worth.”
Paul has been an advocate of reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which often result in ridiculously long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
He and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy have introduced legislation that would allow federal judges to disregard mandatory minimums and impose shorter sentences in some cases. This issue may also resonate with minority communities, who have been disproportionately affected by federal mandatory minimum laws.
“I think its fairly ironic that the last three presidents admitted to drug use were lucky enough not to get caught, but had they been caught would have had trouble getting jobs and ultimately never become president,” Paul told Business Insider. “They were fortunate, they were lucky, but I think the laws need to be changed so we’re not ruining people’s lives for youthful mistakes.”
Still, a discussion about school choice and drug reform is unlikely to fix the GOP’s problems with black and Hispanic voters, said David Bositis, an expert on black voting patterns at the Joint centre for Political and Economic Studies.
“At some point, the Republican Party is going to have to change, and it’s going to have to be more than just school choice,” Bositis said, noting that Republican voter ID laws and attempts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law have made many voters in minority communities deeply mistrustful of the GOP.
“First [the party has to say] we will guarantee your right to vote, then we want to make sure everybody has health care, then we think it’s disgraceful that that black unemployment is [about two times] the rate of white unemployment. Only after that are conservatives going to get anywhere with school choice and drug reform.”
Paul acknowledges that there is no one-fix solution to the Republican Party’s demographic problems. But, he said, the first step is showing up and asking for their votes.
“I think sometime aways back we quit showing up and asking African Americans for their vote,” Paul said. “So in a symbolic way, my speech at Howard is asking for their vote, it’s asking for their consideration of the Republican Party. It’s not just about me so much as it is to about giving our party a viewing and a possibility.”
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