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Editorial: Sen. Paul understands predicament of GOP

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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Possible 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., paid a visit to Iowa this past weekend, a mere two-and-a-half years before the next Iowa Republican caucuses.

Paul delivered the keynote address at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Dinner in Cedar Rapids, which also featured prominent Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Paul is considered a leading early contender for the 2016 GOP nomination, and he’s undoubtedly spending time in Iowa looking to build upon his father’s base in the state. Former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who sought the Republican nomination last year, performed well in the Iowa caucuses. He finished in third place with 21 percent of the vote and eventually carried a majority of the state’s delegates to the nominating convention.

Although Rand Paul shares much of his father’s libertarianism, he has adopted a softer, more mainstream ideology better suited for mass consumption than his father’s. Rand Paul distances himself somewhat from his father’s non-interventionist foreign policy and seeks only to audit, not abolish, the Federal Reserve.

That’s not to say that Paul doesn’t have his share of unpalatable positions. He opposes same-sex marriage, demagogues on the national debt, and advocates for dramatically scaling back the government by eliminating federal education funding and federal housing programs, among many others.

But Paul is a shrewd politician who recognizes the need for growth in the GOP. In his speech May 10, he stressed that Latino and African-American voters are crucial to the party’s future. It’s a view many politicos share, but Paul has become one of the Republican Party’s leading political evangelists, placing himself at the forefront of the party’s efforts to make inroads with new demographics.

For now, the road to a new GOP seems to run through Paul.

On May 10, before a crowd that included noted immigration critic King, Paul laid out a strong plan for immigration reform, indicating that he may be willing to sign on to bipartisan legislation in the Senate.

Paul’s plan involves making the existing guest-worker program more attractive for employers and ensuring that the number of potential guest workers is not capped in order to make legal immigration easier and more accessible for low-skill workers.

Paul also suggested requiring annual security reports from the border for Congressional review. Implementation of immigration reforms would be contingent on the success of increased border-security operations.

We’re skeptical about this aspect of Paul’s plan. Reducing border crossings would require a massive deployment of resources to the Southwest. This has been done before, and it didn’t work.

A 2010 study from the Brookings Institute found that since 2003, the undocumented immigrant population has risen along with increased funding for border security. Illegal immigration began to slow only after the onset of the Great Recession changed the economics of coming to the United States.

Given the history, fully establishing an improved guest-worker program would have a greater potential to reduce illegal border crossing than increased security. And it could be done without making the border even more dangerous than it is now.

In his speech, Paul framed his support for immigration reform largely as an effort to reach out to the Latino community. He stressed the importance of immigration and the need to maintain dignity and opportunity among the country’s immigrant population.

He made another attempt at Republican outreach earlier this year when he spoke at the historically African-American Howard University in Washington, D.C. His pitch was based on the rather dishonest premise that Republicans were once the party of civil rights and the Democrats were once the party of Jim Crow. It’s true but hardly relevant — the Republicans and Democrats essentially switched positions on civil rights during the 1960s.

Still, Paul deserves credit for trying.

Rand Paul isn’t a perfect ambassador for his party and his beliefs sure aren’t perfect either. But he understands the current predicament of the GOP, and he’s trying to solve it.

His efforts on immigration and outreach, at least, deserve some recognition. We await his return to Iowa.

With 2016 looming, it shouldn’t be long.


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