Paul: GOP should fight to 'make the party better'

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) encouraged conflict within the Republican Party to “make the party better,” he said in remarks to a conservative crowd on Wednesday night.

Paul received a warm reception from a ballroom full of conservative lawmakers and supporters gathered for the annual Weyrich Awards Dinner, which honors leaders in the movement in the name of Moral Majority founder Paul Weyrich. Paul spoke largely extemporaneously and peppered his address with jokes about government spending and his own hair, which he said had once been mistaken for a toupee.

But he encouraged the conflict within the Republican Party, which has been ongoing between the grassroots and establishment wings since Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012.

“People say oh, Republicans shouldn’t fight. I disagree. There’s a struggle; there should be a struggle to make the party better,” Paul said.

His remarks came on the eve of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering of conservative activists and leaders just outside of Washington, D.C., where speakers typically jockey for the favor of the GOP base.

Paul will take the stage Friday, and his address will draw added scrutiny as he continues to prepare for a potential presidential run. Speaking alongside other potential presidential contenders like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the conference, observers will be watching to see how he pulls away from the pack of conservative favorites.

If the Weyrich address is any indication, Paul might take a more bellicose stance than many others leaders in his party, who have preached unity following the contentious GOP presidential primary in 2012 that most Republicans agree weakened their eventual nominee.

Paul recounted his memory of the 1976 GOP convention, where his father was a delegate for Ronald Reagan, and where Reagan nearly toppled the party’s eventual nominee, Gerald Ford. He said Reagan’s insurgent candidacy, and the conflict within the party, made the GOP bigger.

“That doesn’t mean it needs to be rude. I try to be nice, polite, and I try to work with everybody as much as I can. I think the party, though, struggles on, gets big,” he said.

Paul also suggested that, to expand the appeal of the GOP, the party must have a “powerful” message that it brings to those who haven’t yet heard it. Paul has made a point to do just that, addressing historically black universities in D.C. and Kentucky and pitching economic policies in Detroit.

“The way we get bigger is, we need to have a message that’s powerful. We don’t dilute or give up our message. We need to extend our message to people who haven't been listening to us,” he said on Wednesday night.

He said for him, that message has a “libertarian twist.” And he suggested Republicans could reach out to black Americans in particular through criminal justice reform.

“We need to be the party that says we’re not compromising on balancing budgets and lowering taxes and less regulations, but why don’t we be the party that has some compassion for people who aren’t being treated fairly by the criminal justice system,” he said.

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