DES MOINES, IOWA — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., urged his fellow Republicans Saturday to become the "party of civil rights" by embracing limits on the courts and law enforcement. It was both good policy and good politics, he argued, and would fill a vacancy created by Democrats turning away from these issues.
Paul, a 2016 presidential hopeful, made the case for this during a speech to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, a major gathering of socially-conservative voters in the key early primary state. He began by noting that the GOP had lost Iowa in the last two presidential elections and said it needs to do something different to reach out to non-conservatives.
"You have to run somebody who says, 'Not only are we going to be the party of the Second Amendment, but we are going to be the party of the Fourth Amendment. We are going to be the party that respects your privacy. We are going to be the party that says the government cannot, without a warrant, without a judge's signature ... look at your phone records,'" Paul said.
Paul went on to say that the GOP needed to be "the party of the entire bill of rights," and argued that it was important to protect the rights of the "least popular among us" because shifting cultural tides means anyone can become the least popular, including social conservatives.
"You can be a minority because of the shade of skin. But you can be a minority because of the shade of your ideology ... We need to protect the rights of the minority," he said.
Paul then gave a stark example of what social conservatives could see happen if those rights falter. "When they send the police to your churches — When they send the police into your church and ask your minister for their sermons, that is the time for civil disobedience," he said, to cheers and applause.
He closed the speech with an anecdote about a 16 year-old African-American kid who was sent to Riker's Island prison in New York and attempted suicide four times while waiting for his trial because his parents could not afford bail. Paul argued the confinement violated the teen's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and showed the need to stand up for "compassion" in law enforcement policy. That, in turn, would give non-conservatives reason to give the party a second look.
The remarks resonated with many in the crowd. Many said they had been disturbed by recent controversies over the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision and Indiana's adoption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The decision and law provided protections to entities with religious objections to government laws, and prompted criticism from liberals who said they went too far. Conservatives, meanwhile, were feeling besieged.
"We keep getting pushed on the defensive," said Des Moines resident Tim Overlin.
Another attendee, Maureen Nash, said simply, "I agree with him," and left it at that.
No one the Washington Examiner spoke to at the event expressed any objection to Paul's comments or made the case for the tougher law enforcement approach used by Republicans like ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The Iowans instead gave Paul high marks and his speech was one of the best-received of the night.
"I had never him in person before but he did a really good job," said Indianola resident Dick Gabriel, "Really good."