Rand Paul, fusionist

Eliana Johnson reports on Rand Paul’s visit to Iowa, which soon will be followed by visits to New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. As Eliana’s report makes clear, outreach to social conservatives was a main purpose of Paul’s trip to Iowa. The front page of today’s Washington Post also contains a story, albeit less insightful, about Paul’s outreach efforts.

Paul exaggerates, but is on to something, when he says “politics is always the art of fusion, bringing people together who don’t agree on every issue and trying to find some common theme.” Finding a common theme between his libertarianism and the social conservatism of evangelicals is a daunting task.

But Paul is wise to make the effort. Republicans need to attract young voters, but would be crazy to blow off the socially conservative base. Attempts at fusion beat the take-it-or-leave it approach one senses from Mike Huckabee, on the one hand, and Chris Christie, on the other. But then, Huckabee and Christie do not (yet?) seem focused on a presidential run.

How does Paul propose to effectuate the fusion? Eliana reports:

Paul treads carefully on the issues that matter most to social conservatives. He says he’s “100 percent” pro-life, but maintains there are many exceptions to the rule that abortion is wrong. He personally opposes same-sex marriage, but insists the matter should be left up to the states.

Whether his federalism on the question will pass muster with a broader audience of social conservatives remains to be seen, but this group of Evangelical pastors appears receptive to his message about broadening the GOP. “If you think everybody in the Democratic party agrees with each other . . . ” one lunch participant interjects. “I mean, you think all these union guys are for homosexual marriage? I guarantee you, they aren’t!”

Good point.

If Paul wants to keep the traditional Republican coalition together, he must also “fuse” with Republicans who favor a strong national defense and a foreign policy of engagement with the world (and not just through trade). This part of the fusion project is less urgent politically, and Paul need not, for political purposes, fuse with neoconservatives (as that term has come to be understood).

Eliana notes that in a February speech at the Heritage Foundation, Paul urged Republicans to look to the Cold War–era policy of containment to combat radical Islam and even, perhaps, a nuclear Iran. Although this approach failed to gain traction, there may be considerable merit to the part about containing radical Islam in general.

I don’t see myself supporting Rand Paul for president. Indeed, unless this fusion thing works out, I’m not sure I could even vote for him in a general election. But I’m not the voter Paul needs, especially, to worry about. And Paul does deserve credit for thinking hard about how to broaden the Republican Party’s appeal without losing large portions of the base.

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