With his cordial, enlightening appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) proved that he might just give Hillary Clinton a run for some liberal votes, but also that his fellow Republicans better up their game if they want to truly engage in outreach.
During Friday evening’s satellite interview, liberal comedian Maher and the libertarian-leaning senator seemed largely in-sync on issues like the war on drugs and the fight against ISIS. Even for an issue on which they fundamentally disagree — climate change — the senator presented himself as a seeker of middle ground, proposing the deregulation of alternative fuel sources.
Acknowledging how rare it is for a leading Republican to appear in unfriendly territory like Real Time, Maher introduced Paul as “the one Republican who is willing to go to places Republicans don’t usually speak,” adding, “I admire him greatly for that.”
The HBO host was correct because if one looks back at the senator’s recent public appearances, a workable 2016 motto emerges: “Rand Paul: Going Where No Republican Has Gone Before.”
Upon review, the past year has seen Sen. Paul visiting college campuses normally seen as hotbeds of hostility to the Republican Party; holding engagement sessions with black leaders and inner-city groups normally wary of the conservative message; and meeting with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, despite the tech industry’s overwhelming preference for liberal politicians.
It’s all part of a strategy to bring the senator’s libertarian strand of conservatism to anyone who will listen. “Reaching out and engaging new audiences remains a priority to me,” Paul told Mediaite.
Such engagement has proved fruitful for the senator. His March speech at UC Berkeley, which mostly focused on government spying, resulted in a standing ovation from a packed auditorium at a school known for its political liberalism. And in April, when Paul spoke at Harvard University, his own ex-rival Trey Grayson (then-director of the school’s Institute of Politics) introduced him as “without question the Republican who best connects with millennial voters across the country.”
On top of that, Rand Paul was also the only nationally-elected Republican to address the National Urban League conference this July. He went above and beyond his party — and even most Democrats — by attending a “listening session” with local activists, pastors, and black leaders last month in the turmoil-wracked city of Ferguson, Mo.
Such active attempts to hold court with black voters is why when the Republicans opened an engagement office in inner-city Detroit, they tapped Paul to headline the event.
Perhaps the most astonishing part is that he’s the only Republican to do all of the above while also winning the Conservative Political Action Conference’s presidential straw poll and helping a dozen GOP candidates get elected or re-elected to the Senate, including his own fellow Kentuckian in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
While Paul has yet to declare a run for president, he maintains that his current trend of outreach is in the interest of the party itself, supplanting his own.
“I continue to believe that the Republican Party needs to become a bigger, better and bolder party in order to compete and win nationally,” he told Mediaite. “From UC Berkeley to Detroit and from Bill Maher’s show to Silicon Valley, I will continue to do my part in expanding our brand.”
Relive the Maher/Paul bro-down below, via HBO:
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org