All of which is to say that when Rand Paul, 52, stands before a carefully chosen crowd at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville on Tuesday, it will prove one of the most anticlimactic presidential announcements of modern times. The Kentucky senator will be doing little more than dotting the final “i” (as in, it’s official) in a long-telegraphed campaign for the White House that began four years ago in the first moments after Paul was sworn in as senator.

Within the first year of the Senate term, he really started to focus on it,” said a former aide.

In fact, the only reason Paul didn’t run for president in 2012 was that his father, Ron, with whom he shared a Washington apartment and an ideologically fraught mentor-mentee relationship, was considering his third presidential bid.

Following Ted Cruz’s announcement, Paul had to do something different. And knowing that he’s not as inspirational a speaker as Cruz, his team wisely determined to go a different route. Paul’s announcement was an ensemble effort that went heavy on multi-media. And where Cruz delivered a message straight to the base, Paul also stressed his appeal to people outside the Republican tent. …

Former Rep. J.C. Watts, an African-American from Oklahoma, opened up (and emceed) the festivities, asking the audience to pray for Rand and his wife.

There was an opening prayer. Check. Pledge of allegiance led by a vet. Check. Star spangled banner. Check. Chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A! U.S.A.!” Check! …

It’s amazing, but Rand’s announcement somehow featured more preachers and more prayers than Ted Cruz’s announcementat Liberty University!

Paul, who is expected to announce a presidential run Tuesday, has spent the last two years courting black voters in part by urging the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons, who are disproportionately African-American. As leaders in both political parties take hawkish stances on national security, Paul, often with few allies, has warned against broad surveillance of American phone records and the expanded use of drones.

But Paul’s unorthodox and at times courageous approach has done little to help his presidential prospects. The Kentucky senator faces very long odds of becoming the GOP presidential nominee, mainly because he has taken foreign policy stances opposed by many powerful figures in the Republican Party.

“I think he’s going to take it state by state,” said Jesse Benton, the longtime Paul adviser who served as his father’s campaign manager in 2012 and is now running the presidential candidate’s super PAC. “In Iowa, you’ve got to reach out to evangelicals, and in New Hampshire, it’s more the Romney voters.”

Benton — who served for a time as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2014 campaign manager and has acted as a bridge between Paul and the party’s leadership — has been among those pushing for outreach to the establishment.

“The biggest fundamental difference, I think, between Ron and Rand is that Rand is able to grab the sort of business Republicans in a way that Ron couldn’t,” Benton said. “He just strikes the business community as being more serious, and someone they can actually envision in power.” With these voters it’s a plus, Benton added, that Paul “doesn’t want a culture war.”

Everyone on the Paul team, and non-team observers on the ground in early states, agree that, despite scattered early defections, the vast majority of the “Ron Paul vote” is indeed still there for Rand Paul to build on. His campaign crows that he’s the leading Republican in one-on-one polling against likely Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton—at 41.8 percent—though he’s still losing in most states. They know the parts of Paul that distinguish him from other Republicans are what have elevated him above his Republican opponents when facing Hillary. What’s succeeding is the cool, interesting, youth appeal Paul who stands up for what one might call the nicer ends of libertarianism, the parts that involve making the government stop doing bad things, like spying, drone-killing on presidential command, and ruining, disproportionately, the lives of poor minorities with drug law enforcement and sentencing.

But the full weight of his libertarian background, his father’s legacy, and his own attempts to hew at least in principle to a consistent ideology, while appealing to a non-ideological mass of voters, will likely prove tricky to navigate. That such a dilemma even exists is something campaign advisors specializing in early states Iowa, New Hampshire and on the sensitive foreign policy beat didn’t acknowledge head-on in interviews this week. …

Paul is openly running on the claim to be a “different” Republican. Biundo says that’s not meant to imply the Party is fatally flawed or that Rand has nothing in common with it. It’s “not about changing the message,” Biundo says, “but about being able to take it to different parts of the electorate and talk directly to them, and get them understanding that it’s OK to vote Republican.”

Sen. Rand Paul’s kickoff speech for his presidential campaign was remarkable for its lack of originality or appeal beyond his base of libertarian admirers. The stock phrases piled up. “We’ve come to take our country back.” “It seems to me that both parties and the entire political system are to blame.” “Washington is horribly broken.” This seemed like a dumbed-down version of every speech he has given since running for Senate in 2010. The platitudes were hardly the stuff of an unorthodox pol. It is not a revelation to say, “Liberal policies have failed our inner cities.” Likewise, term limits, a balanced budget and abolishing the National Security Agency are not exactly new ideas. Nor are these nostrums relevant to most Americans, who want to know what Paul wants to do about health care (other than abolishing Obamacare), wage stagnation, the soaring cost of higher ed and their personal security.

One of the most frequently asked questions about a Rand Paul presidential campaign is how much he’ll be able to rely upon the donors who helped Ron Paul, his father, raise more than $39 million in the 2012 presidential primaries.

We don’t know the answer. The reason it’s hard to know is that the elder Mr. Paul was so good at raising money in small amounts. During his presidential bid, he raised 45 percent of his individual contributions in amounts less than $200, meaning the donors’ names never appeared in Federal Election Commission filings.

If you look at just those contributors who gave at least $200 to Ron Paul, there isn’t a lot for Rand Paul to be excited about. Of the more than 21,000 people listed on Federal Election Commission filings as donors to Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign, just 305 have also given at least $200 to Rand Paul’s Senate campaign or his leadership PAC, according to an analysis by The Upshot. Those donations totaled $419,000.

For the most part, Paul has been far, far better in pushing a small-government, libertarian-ish agenda than any of the other likely GOP presidential candidates. He has called for getting the federal government out of pot prohibition and marriage (though he’s getting wobbly on the latter). He’s published budgets that call for year-over-year spending cuts and he hasn’t put forward a terrible tax plan that blows open the budget again to give bigger child tax credits to all Americans regardless of income while also limiting the deduction for the poorest parents (that’s Marco Rubio). He has staked out a general foreign policy direction that is non-interventionist in principle, even if he’s getting more and more enamored of making exceptions to the rule. He fundamentally changed the conversation about privacy, drones, and government surveillance. Unlike Ted Cruz, he doesn’t come across as a political panderer who seems less interested in winning meaningful political battles than in engaging in vestigial displays of rigid principle. Paul is actually trying to reach out to new audiences for himself and the GOP more broadly. …

Dispositional libertarians are almost certainly looking for a major-party candidate whom they can get behind in a general election. Since winning his Senate race in 2010, Rand Paul looked like he was that candidate. To the extent that he separates himself from the other Republicans in the primaries by asserting libertarian bona fides and explaining how reducing the size, scope, and spending of government will benefit most if not all of the traditional Republican interest groups, he still may be.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul formally announced his presidential campaign Tuesday, and notably failed to mention a top target of GOP hopefuls: Obamacare.

Paul has been vaunting his health care know-how while prepping his campaign, emphasizing his career as an ophthalmologist before running for office for the first time in 2010.

But Paul overlooked the health-care law while listing a number of hot-button issues in his speech. In contrast, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the only other Republican to formally declare a 2016 campaign, took the time in his announcement last month to call for repealing “every word” of Obamacare. Cruz has made a name for himself by filibustering Obamacare funding for over 21 hours in 2013.

But the central question is: how much does Paul hurt his brand of libertarian conservatism when he tries to broaden his base?

Does he risk his support going to a similar candidate like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)?
The more “mainstream” he becomes, the more he threatens to undermine his image as a libertarian conservative who is an original thinker and an outsider.

The most interesting question is: What would a general election of Paul against Hillary Clinton look like? It would turn traditional ideological battles upside down, with perhaps the Democratic candidate being more of a hawk than the Republican, but the Republican appealing more to younger voters. The electoral map would be unlike any we have seen in recent memory.


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