Sens. Marco Rubio’s and Rand Paul’s delivery of back-to-back rebuttals of President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress — Rubio as the Republican response, Paul as the tea party rejoinder — raises some tantalizing questions:
With Rubio being stamped as the early favorite in the 2016 Republican White House race, is Paul emerging as a leading alternative among tea party faithful and other hard-line conservative activists?
If so, does he risk further fracturing a Republican Party that’s trying to move toward the center and soften its rough edges in the wake of Obama’s decisive re-election three months ago?…
“I like to associate myself with the tea party, but it is a grassroots, ground-up organization,” Paul said. “If I’m asked to provide a label for myself, I usually choose the label ‘constitutional conservative.’”
One senior Republican leadership aide gushed with admiration over the freshman senator, emphasizing that he’s been able to tailor his libertarian ideology toward legislation that holds broader appeal. The adviser touted his involvement on right-to-work legislation, his call to audit the Federal Reserve, and even his leadership on legalizing industrial hemp – legislation first pushed by his father, which has now won support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Rand is somebody who has the generational know-how to turn it into 21st century machine. He gets branding. He understands there’s a need for credibility,” said the adviser. “He understands he doesn’t have the answers to everything. He’s not afraid of input, but is totally confident in listening to input to help achieve his goals.”
One of the areas where he’s taken a lot of feedback is on foreign policy, which critics have tagged as being synonymous with his father’s controversial views. But in a sign that he’s looking beyond just his next re-election, Paul made a high-profile trip to Israel, gave a foreign policy speech to the Heritage Foundation designed to smooth over the rough edges of his foreign policy worldview, and joined most of his Republican colleagues in blocking Hagel. He reached out to Israel supporters, framing his distaste for overseas interventions as one that would prevent the U.S. from putting undue pressure on Israel, getting a jibe at President Obama in the process.
David Adams, a Kentucky tea-party activist and former campaign manager for Sen. Rand Paul, remembers a conference call from the 2010 Senate race when the conversation turned to talk of their favorite presidents. Some said George Washington, others Abraham Lincoln. Adams’s pick? “Rand Paul in 2016,” he recalled…
Paul’s hoping that his close relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will pay dividends as he tries to broaden his appeal within the party. He’s given McConnell cover from a tea-party challenge to his right, while McConnell has praised his record and advised him on legislative strategy. It’s a win-win arrangement that gives Paul significant credibility with the establishment as he raises his profile.
“We’ve had, harkening back to the very early days of Rand Paul’s campaign, … a lot of people pushing back very hard until they figured it wasn’t beneficial for them to do that any more,” Adams said.
To begin with, his reserved demeanor, less intense and less cloying than the average pol, sets him apart as different. This may strike some (women voters, perhaps, most of all) as cool or remote; however, we learned from President Obama than restraint and reserve have a certain appeal these days, especially with younger voters wary of the glad-handing, used-car salesmen type of politicians…
On immigration, as he said, he’s moved a long way. And he also makes an appeal not to incarcerate non-violent drug users. Al of this, one can imagine, will open up the party’s appeal. Paul is also smart enough not to sound hysterical or defensive about opposition. Unlike the tea party crowd and some right wing bloggers in orbit about Karl Rove’s efforts to find electable Republicans, Paul says simply, “Well, you know, elections are a free marketplace and everybody has a right to participate in primary elections. What I would say is primary elections need not be selected by the party. In my case, and also in Sen. Rubio’s case, the party chose someone else. In Sen. Rubio’s case, they chose someone who is now a Democrat. So, it wasn’t really a very good choice. So, I would say is, let’s have healthy primaries, and if people want to contribute on all sides, let people make voluntary contributions and we’ll see which way it goes. But I think competitive primaries, you end up getting a good candidate, typically.” Paul’s national security views remain a concern for many voters. But the mix of issues — on immigration, drug crimes, and fiscal sobriety — in what he calls a libertarian-conservative viewpoint — will certainly shake up the party. (Unclear is how gay marriage will fit into all this.) Paul is definitely not your run-of-the-mill Republican; how far that will take him remains to be seen.
Asked in an interview with The Sunday Times whether he would run for president, Paul, 50, said: “It’s too early to tell but I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of the national debate and I will continue to be.
“The Republican party needs a good healthy dose of libertarianism and we also need to figure out something new, because what’s going on is not working.”…
Paul’s formula is a clear shift to “a less aggressive foreign policy, a little more toleration of individual characteristics, toleration of immigration and a less draconian approach to non-violent crime like drug usage”.
His father, he pointed out, came out ahead of Obama in some presidential election polling: “He beat him with an interesting dynamic — loses a third of the Republican vote, gains a third of the Democratic vote and wins the independents. So it’s a sort of third way.”
Asked if this would be the kind of coalition he could try to assemble if he ran nationally, Paul said: “I think so. You have to do something to cobble people together to find a majority.”