The warm welcome that Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) received from an audience of mostly young Americans at the University of California, Berkeley, last week should send a shiver down the spines of Democrats.
Paul was in the Bay Area ostensibly to complain about the National Security Agency’s snooping on Americans. He described “an intelligence community drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power.” The crowd applauded as he said, “What you do on your cell phone is none of their damned business.”
His real purpose, however, was to demonstrate to Republican primary voters that he alone is capable of extending the party’s reach beyond its current narrow boundaries. He likened the Republicans to a tarnished brand that had finally turned itself around. “Remember when Domino’s finally admitted they had bad crust?” he said. “Think Republican Party. Admit it. Bad crust. We need a different kind of party.”
By appearing in jeans and cowboy boots on the Berkeley campus, scene of the high point of the 1960s student protests and the epicenter of California liberalism, the closet libertarian did more than survive 40 minutes in the liberal lion’s den. He showed that his anti-domestic spying message rings true with young progressive Americans who are inclined to vote Democrat.
Not long ago, Paul reminded Republicans that they cannot win elections if they pursue lines of argument that seem irrelevant to the majority of Americans. He acknowledged that the GOP is the incredible shrinking party, the last bastion of the old white men who have resented every change in American society in the last 50 years — from the twist to Twitter.