Yep, Rand Paul's already building a 50-state presidential organization

You knew that, though, even if you didn’t formally “know” it. No American politician, Hillary included, has been clearer about his intentions in 2016 than Paul. CNN remembers him talking about running for president as far back as November 2012, just weeks after the last election. That reminds me of something a friend who works in Democratic politics once told me, that Obama had someone in Iowa quietly sniffing around about 2008 from virtually the day he was elected to the Senate in 2004. I didn’t peg Rand initially as someone who had his heart set on the presidency, but maybe I misjudged. Maybe, after watching his dad catch fire with libertarians in ’08 and fizzle with the rest of the party, he sensed an opportunity for a truer libertarian/conservative hybrid candidate. Paul père bequeathed him a network in Iowa and New Hampshire; if, Rand may have thought, he could build on that by reaching further towards the mainstream than his old man was willing to, he could be a legit contender in the early states and then for the nomination. It could be that his Senate run, a la Obama’s, was always just a stepping stone in taking his ideological vision to a bigger stage.

The only thing that could dissuade him, I think, is if he ends up having a legal problem in Kentucky that bars him from running for president and reelection to the Senate simultaneously. The state senate just passed a bill that would let him run for both but the Democratic-controlled house could block it, leaving the prohibition in effect. Paul has grounds for a legal challenge, but who knows what a judge will do. If he’s forced to choose between running for president and Senate, I suppose he might pass on the former in the name of building a bigger resume as a legislator. In that case, though, he’ll have problems running in 2020 — he’d face either a Democratic incumbent or be blocked by a Republican president — and he may worry that the “libertarian moment” the country’s having right now will have passed by then. Probably he’d run for president and forget the Senate in 2016 if made to pick.

Rand Paul’s nationwide organization, which counts more than 200 people, includes new backers who have previously funded more traditional Republicans, along with longtime libertarian activists. Paul, of Kentucky, has also been courting Wall Street titans and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who donated to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, attending elite conclaves in Utah and elsewhere along with other GOP hopefuls…

At the Romney retreat last year in Park City, Utah, Paul gained some fans among the GOP elite. Though few pledged to back him should he run for president, they did warm up to him.

“Going in, people weren’t sure. Most of them didn’t know him,” recalled Ron Kaufman, a Romney confidant. “But they had these one-on-one meetings with him and came away saying he’s a sharp guy. They were still in the grieving stage, not ready to think about 2016, but their opinion of him increased rather dramatically.”…

The decision to swiftly expand and announce Paul’s national political infrastructure — which will be fully unveiled this spring — comes after reports describing Paul’s operation as unready to compete nationally

[Nate] Morris, previously a fundraiser for George W. Bush, has served as Paul’s guide as the freshman senator has navigated steakhouse dinners and tony receptions with Wall Street and Silicon Valley leaders.

That bit in boldface helps explain why this is being leaked now. Paul, more so than other candidates because of his pedigree, wants to show the GOP establishment that he’s serious about the nomination, not just running a vanity candidacy to ventilate the libertarian viewpoint a la Ron. That’s why he endorsed Mitch McConnell, the tea party’s public enemy number one, and has refused to budge despite grumbles from conservatives. His top priority is getting Republicans with deep pockets to take him seriously and one way to do that is by helping out an establishment guy they trust. Likewise, Paul has special reasons to start gladhanding GOP movers and shakers early, when the primary campaign is still more than a year away. With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, he’s the only guy in the field who’s running three different primary races. Everyone else is running the first two — the “invisible primary,” where candidates try to recruit millionaire donors and campaign talent, and then of course the early-state primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. If Paul wins those, though, and suddenly looks to be a heavy favorite to take the nomination, he’ll face one last “primary” — i.e., convincing the GOP establishment not to coalesce behind some alternative candidate like Rubio or Scott Walker in the name of stopping the kooky libertarian. The more millionaire hands he shakes now, the more likely it is that they’ll find him acceptable enough not to try to block him if he jumps out to a big lead in February 2016. He’d like their support, but if he can’t have it, he’ll settle for their indifference. It’s no coincidence, needless to say, that backslapping with donors is happening at the same time Paul’s hawkish side is suddenly emerging in high-profile op-eds. It’s all about reassurance.

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