A bipartisan consensus emerged from the 2012 election that the Republican party has to attract a greater share of the vote from traditionally Democratic blocs, including Hispanics, lest it become obsolete.
Paul’s approach to this issue contrasts with that of one of his potential 2016 primary foes, Florida senator Marco Rubio. Many Republicans, including Rubio and supporters of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, believe that comprehensive immigration reform is critical to reaching minority voters. Meanwhile, Paul voted against the bill Rubio successfully shepherded through the Senate late last month on the grounds that its border-security provisions are insufficient. Though the legislative and personal approaches are not mutually exclusive, some Republicans argue that immigration reform is both necessary and sufficient to reach Hispanic voters. South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, for example, who helped craft the Senate bill, has said that the GOP will face a “demographic death spiral” absent immigration reform; the bill, he claimed, will allow the party to “get reattached to Hispanics.”
The evidence on that front is thin so far. The impact of the immigration bill on Hispanic voters is difficult to measure at this point because the House has not passed it and the president has not signed it into law, but a recent poll showed Rubio doing only one point better than Mitt Romney’s abysmal performance among Hispanics in the 2012 election. At the same time, the latest Rasmussen poll shows his favorability among Republicans has slipped 15 percentage points since February.
Paul is reaching out to Hispanics and other minorities in a different manner. He says he’s on a “speaking tour,” taking the GOP message to new venues, and he faults Republicans for failing to do even a little of this. “Half of it is showing up” in minority communities, he told reporters on a May swing through Iowa, “and I don’t think we’ve been showing up and asking.”
His pitch isn’t solely rhetorical, though. Paul has a legislative pitch tailored to minorities as well. He is planning to pursue legal action against the National Security Agency for what he considers a vast overreach of its surveillance powers and tells those assembled in Lakewood that “Jews should be very concerned about due process and liberty,” and that “blacks should be too.” In his remarks at Howard University, he railed against mandatory minimum sentencing for drug use, which many say disproportionately impacts African Americans and Hispanics. At times, he’s gone further and argued that he doesn’t believe people should be jailed for nonviolent drug crimes. “Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use,” Paul told Fox News. “It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky.”
Among the Orthodox in Lakewood, the senator has found a receptive audience. “I think that for politicians in general, certainly for higher office, including a president, the No. 1 thing we’re looking for is integrity, somebody who’s real,” Roberts says. “He’s real, he’s authentic.”
Achieving similar feats with African-American and Hispanic audiences has proved more difficult. (His Howard University speech was interrupted with hostile shouts from the crowd.) But in Lakewood, the senator responded to friendly inquiries about his views on intervention in Syria and Iran (he’s dubious) and on NSA surveillance. “These weren’t Jewish questions,” Berger observed, “These were American questions.”
— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.