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March 29, 2013

Where is today's Jack Kemp?

(Continued)

AVON —

The important question isn't so much establishment or grass roots as it is who and where. Mike Lee isn't Christine O'Donnell, and Utah isn't Delaware. So he actually won his 2010 Senate race.

Consider Ted Cruz of Texas, whose smarts and fearlessness are making him the most dangerous man in the U.S. Senate. He proves that you can be anti-establishment - he ran a grass-roots insurgency in his Republican primary - and yet talented and electable.

So much depends on political horseflesh. Mitt Romney may have been wounded by the 20-odd debates, but he agreed to so many of them in the first place because he was a weak front-runner fearful of crossing primary voters. If Romney had been granted the Republican nomination with no competition whatsoever, he still would have been a politically inartful former management consultant.

And so much depends on substance. No "rebranding" will make a difference if Republican policy is not relevant to people's lives. What the party desperately needs more than different marketing or new consultants are a few Jack Kemps, political entrepreneurs willing to ignore orthodoxies and evangelize for new ideas.

Kemp did his most important work as a backbencher in the House. Where is his equivalent today? Two possible Republican contenders in 2016 have demonstrated some of his entrepreneurial spirit. No committee ever would have come up with the idea for Rand Paul's filibuster. It showed gumption and creativity, and it caught people's imagination. But it was in a cause - preventing drone attacks on U.S. citizens - that is not pertinent to the everyday life of anyone not on the run in Yemen.

For his part, Rubio has begun to talk about college affordability, an issue that should be part of a new conservative agenda aimed at concrete middle-class concerns. All the action, though, is around Rubio's other cause of comprehensive immigration reform.

The Republican Party can study itself to death, but without some Jack Kemps, it will remain in its current stasis for the duration.

(c) 2013 by King Features Syndicate

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