Rand Paul talks up the ‘third way’ as his vision to extend the GOP’s appeal


Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul addresses the 114th annual VFW National Convention on Monday, July 22, 2013, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is due to give a speech Friday to the National Urban League in Cincinnati, in a new attempt to reach out beyond the GOP’s core base to appeal to African American voters. Paul's speech will reportedly focus on education and criminal justice — both of which may be key issues in his much-rumored 2016 presidential bid.

Paul has long been an advocate of courting groups that have voted heavily for Democrats in recent years.

In an interview with Politico, Paul talked about rejuvenating his party and what it needs to do have a chance of being accepted in Silicon Valley. “And I think when people talk about a third way — a way that’s not entirely Republican and not entirely Democrat but takes the best of both worlds — that is most people you meet in Silicon Valley. And I think that’s a microcosm of a large segment of voters, really, across America that aren’t completely comfortable in either party,” he said.

Although Paul is a tea party supporter who leans libertarian, he recently teamed up with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on criminal justice issues.

Paul’s idea of crafting a “third way” is the latest example of a politician trying to use this long-time concept to electoral advantage. President Bill Clinton, for example, mixed social liberalism and fiscal conservatism in the early 1990s, as part of the "New Democrats" movement.

During the same period, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder also adopted a third way between the left and right wing factions of their political systems. These leaders went on to win several election victories. But the concept of governing through an ideological mix eventually soured with voters.

American voters certainly aren't enamored with their current choices. In a poll conducted by The Washington Post earlier this year, the approval rating for the Democrats was 34 percent compared to 25 percent for Republicans. Among their own members, there was a 51 percent approval rating for the Republicans, compared to 64 percent for the Democrats.

Paul likely realizes that many ordinary voters no longer wish to categorize themselves as a supporter of any party. During the Clinton years, the number of independents increased from 33 percent to 35 percent. Under the Obama years, it has risen from 32 percent to 38 percent.

If Paul wants to have a shot at the presidency in 2016, he may have to figure out a way to appeal to independents. Building his own "third way" might be one way to go about it.

Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.
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