By SAM TANENHAUS APRIL 5, 2014
WHEN Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, delivered a speech last month outlining proposals for economic growth, his sponsor was the Jack F. Kemp Foundation, a Beltway organization set up in memory of the Republican politician who died in 2009 and has recently been cited as a hero by some of the party’s most prominent figures.
Senator Rubio is one outspoken admirer. Another is Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, who worked at Mr. Kemp’s think tank, Empower America, in the 1990s, and has said that Mr. Kemp was one of his principal mentors.
Perhaps the most surprising Kemp acolyte, given his anti-establishment persona, is Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. Mr. Paul has updated Kemp’s most famous idea, “urban enterprise zones,” which were intended to entice businesses into struggling inner cities. …
It might seem a curious moment for a Jack Kemp revival. Many remember him as an evangelist for supply-side economics and its drastic tax cutting — exactly the approach some Republicans say needs to be replaced with a fresh agenda that grapples with joblessness and stagnant wages.
But there was another side to Kemp, a self-described “bleeding-heart conservative” who preached the gospel of upward mobility, economic opportunity, cultural diversity and racial justice. This Kemp personified the big-tent Republicanism that has gone into hibernation in the Obama years and that some Republicans think is crucial to the party’s success in the 2016 presidential election, when voters will want to hear a more positive message.
It is one thing, of course, to emphasize reaching beyond the Republican base, and quite another to connect with other voters, which Kemp was successful in doing.
When Bob Dole put Jack Kemp on his ticket in 1996, Dole-Kemp won 12% of the black vote. Granted, they lost the election badly, but they still broke double-digits in the black vote. And that`s what really counts, isn`t it? (What? White people are still enfranchised? Why wasn`t I informed?)
During the subprime mortgage crisis, for example, he called for a loosening of bankruptcy laws to protect “the estimated 2.2 million families in danger of losing their homes” and then teamed up with Henry G. Cisneros, the housing secretary under Bill Clinton, to urge congressional action against “predatory and discriminatory lending practices which have had a direct and significant impact on African-American and Latino homeowners and neighborhoods.”