WASHINGTON — Republicans’ search for a way back to presidential success is drawing a striking array of personalities and policy options, creating a wide-open self-reassessment of the party. GOP activists may need three full years to decide which candidate and which philosophy will serve them best in 2016.
Rival factions are trying to tug the party left or right, toward pragmatism or defiance, toward small-government purity versus pride in the good that government can do.
Traditional stands against gay marriage and against looser immigration laws are being challenged. And the tea party’s influence looms large in early presidential jockeying after a muted role in the heart of last year’s contest.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is generating nationwide attention with a libertarian-tinged message that drew modest attention until a short time ago.
Marco Rubio, a tea party hero since elbowing his way past Florida’s Republican governor in the 2010 Senate race, is practically a GOP mainstreamer now. Republicans don’t need a new idea, he told a recent gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, because they already have one. “The idea is called America, and it still works,” Rubio said.
At the same conference, Paul espoused a different view. The Republican Party, he said, is “stale and moss-covered.”
It’s Paul — not Rubio or one of the several governors eyeing a presidential bid — who got the coveted invitation to headline the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in May.
It’s possible that one Republican candidate will pull away from the pack over the next two years. But the absence of an early frontrunner is unusual for a party that traditionally picks its nominee with a next-in-line mind set, said Dan Schnur, a former Republican campaign aide who teaches political science at University of Southern California. Now, he said, “there is no hierarchy.”
Thus far, no one is creating more buzz than Paul, whose father, Ron Paul, is a libertarian champion and three-time presidential candidate. The younger Paul generally avoids his father’s more esoteric issues, such as abolishing the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard.
Rand Paul’s anti-war stand also is softer than his father’s. But the junior senator from Kentucky gained widespread attention this month with a 13-hour filibuster challenging U.S. policy for using drones to kill terrorist suspects.
Soon thereafter, Paul won CPAC’s presidential straw poll — as his father did in past years — and delivered a widely covered speech on immigration.
Even Paul’s occasional critics salute his fast rise.
“He’s passionate, he knows no fear and he’s true to his beliefs,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who publicly rebuked Paul’s remarks about drone policies. “We’re on different planets when it comes to foreign policy,” Graham said. He cautioned Paul: “I think it’s going to be difficult to lead the Republican Party without embracing peace through strength, the Ronald Reagan approach to national security.”
Nearly equaling Paul in early presidential speculation is Rubio, 41, who is tasked with helping his party find better footing on immigration. Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, is trying to craft a lengthy but feasible path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Some GOP strategists hope Rubio can reverse the trend.
FILE - In this March 12, 2013 file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Republican Partyís search for a way back to presidential success in 2016 is drawing a striking array of personalities and policy options. Itís shaping up as a wide-open self-reassessment by the GOP. Some factions are trying to tug the party left or right. Others argue over pragmatism versus defiance. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)×