In an interview with Politico released Tuesday morning, Republican Sen. Rand Paul is about as forthright as he's been about wanting to run for president in 2016. "The country’s a mess, and I think there needs to be a program that Republicans put forward, and also there needs to be a messenger who can actually win," he told Politico, which caught up with him on a political swing through Texas earlier this month. "And I’m concerned that if we put forward the same sort of candidate again, that we won’t be successful." The candidate Republicans need, Paul reasons, is Paul. He's the only one who can appeal to minorities.
While Paul's buddy in the Senate, Ted Cruz, has completely derailed immigration reform, Paul is willing to address it. Politico reports that to a crowd of self-described Cruz and Sarah Palin fans at the Harris County GOP dinner in Houston, Paul said explicitly,
Texas is going to be a Democrat state within 10 years if we don’t change. That means we evolve. It doesn’t mean we give up on what we believe in, but it means we have to be a welcoming party. What I’ll continue to say, and it’s not an exact policy prescription, … but if you want to work and you want a job and you want to be part of America, we’ll find a place for you.
Paul doesn't support the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill that's currently stalled in Congress, but he does approve of reform that goes beyond border control. He's taking cues straight from Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus here. In the RNC's "autopsy report" from the 2012 election, Priebus didn't offer a specific policy prescription for immigration reform, but he made it clear that change needs to happen to appeal to Latino voters. Paul noted to Politico,
I think that our message … has great appeal if you are part of any kind of group that’s ever been mistreated in history. That could be African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Japanese-Americans, all of which, at times in our history, haven’t been treated as they should be.
It's interesting that this is the angle Paul is pushing, considering he had to fire one of his top aides last year for being less than racially sensitive. Paul's aide Jack Hunter was a shock jock radio host who espoused neo-Confederate views on air into the mid 2000s. He once suggested that John Wilkes Booth's "heart was in the right place" when he shot President Lincoln.
As Jonathan Chait at New York explained at the time, there's a reason racists are attracted to libertarians like Paul. Chait argued, "the logic of southern white supremacy and the logic of libertarianism run along very similar lines. They both express themselves in terms of opposition to federal power and support for states’ rights." While "very, very few Rand Paul fans are glad Abraham Lincoln was shot," Paul's libertarianism does appeal to a racist crowd. His father, Ron Paul, has similarly unsavory fans, and in the early 90s, he published racist newsletters himself (though he denies responsibility for them).
Still, Paul stands to position himself as the GOP candidate with the broadest appeal. Politico notes that Paul has made a point to visit minority communities ahead of the midterms. And he's less conservative on social issues than some of the other GOP 2016 frontrunners, famously saying that Republicans need to "agree to disagree" on the subject of gay marriage. "Everybody likes me," he tells Politico with a grin.