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Senator Rand Paul may not be the GOP front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination but he stands alone among Republican candidates at almost every level with his ability to attract and energize young voters.
Whether it's his solid libertarian credentials that attract freedom-loving younger Americans or his extremely tech-savvy/social media approach that pre-dates even his 2010 Senate campaign, no Republican pulls in the coveted and usually fickle millennials like Rand Paul.
Other GOP candidates desperately need to follow Paul's example in this area. Learning from what his social media staff is doing and even hiring away some of his consultants is the easy part. Making the actual candidate look as comfortable with technology might be harder, though some of the other GOP candidates are already very adept and effective at social media at least, most notably Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Perhaps the biggest lesson the other contenders could learn from Paul is promoting liberty and freedom at all times, no matter how hard the party's moralists and finger-waggers tug the other way. So, while pundits like me find it necessary to remind millennials about all the benefits of settling down, getting married, and avoiding drug use, (legalized or not), these are not the messages presidential candidates should be pushing on the campaign trail. They turn off young voters and they're not going to win over too many older voters anyway.
On the economy, Senator Paul's strong support for simply allowing American businesses to do what they've done best for 240 years somehow sounds like a newer and fresher idea when he says it. Perhaps it's the fact that he makes a clear delineation between the capitalism that creates small businesses and the crony capitalism that props up big business, but whatever he's doing on this score, it's working. This is what he gets right. His appeal to young people is as unique among Republicans as the late Jack Kemp's connection was to African Americans. And the Republican Party and its candidates for every office need to expand and amplify this message.
There is something crucial that Paul gets wrong and the other GOP candidates and party as a whole need to very clearly and regularly explain why he's wrong on this.
I'm referring to his mostly isolationist view of American foreign policy that's as outdated and lame as his connection with millennials is fresh and exciting. It's a bad throwback to the party of Wendell Willkie and worse. (Recall that Willkie's main campaign theme was opposition to US involvement in World War II. He won the GOP nomination but lost the election to Franklin Roosevelt.) It's also sadly hypocritical for someone who so effectively promotes the freedom agenda here at home to insist on more disengagement abroad. And this weakness in Senator Paul's message was evident as he became defensive and angry with Savannah Guthrie this morning on the "Today" show when she asked him about it. (This came a few months after he was defensive with CNBC's Kelly Evans on "Closing Bell.")
Like it or not, America stands alone as the beacon of freedom and hope for billions of people across the globe. President Obama has spent the last six years doing countless things that undermine it. Whether it was his administration's gross dismissal of the nascent freedom movement in Iran in 2009, or his rush to abandon the democratic powers in Iraq and Afghanistan with our troop pullouts, this president has betrayed the cause of liberty just as much through those acts as he has in propping up the NSA surveillance programs Paul and his supporters so strongly oppose.
As President Obama's foreign-policy disasters multiply, Rand Paul's opponents in the Republican field need to repeatedly point out the essential truth that America needs to protect and project freedom now more than ever. We need to stand by Israel, India and Ukraine better than we have these past six years. We need to be willing to get more involved when necessary. While Senator Paul is to be commended for pointing out that our president refuses to even name radical Islam as the chief enemy of peace and decency worldwide, Paul must go further than just naming names. Perhaps he will in the coming months, but I remain convinced that his base of staunch isolationist supporters won't really let him.
A lot has changed about America since World War II. But one thing that stays the same is that Republicans tend to win presidential elections when foreign policy and foreign events are key issues. And the GOP can't win the White House with a candidate who doesn't want to get too involved.