Rand Paul is not exactly his father’s son.
In general, he shares the libertarian philosophy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, but expresses it in a more genial, less didactic way.
For one thing, there’s no reliance on Austrian economists and other obscure influences. For another, he’s more of a Republican Party man and less of a lone wolf. But he’s sufficiently prone to outspoken statements that Sen. John McCain included him in condemning the GOP’s “wacko birds.”
Still, in one major way, the freshman Kentucky senator is laying plans to follow his father’s example, by running for president in 2016.
“We’re considering it,” Rand Paul told a recent breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “But we won’t make a decision before 2014.”
This month, Paul is visiting two states on the traditional itinerary for prospective candidates. He spoke at the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner on Friday in Cedar Rapids (one of several speaking engagements in the Hawkeye State that day) and plans to speak at the New Hampshire GOP’s Liberty Day dinner May 20 in Concord.
“I want to be part of the national debate,” said Paul, one of whose top strategists is moving from his Senate staff to run his political operation. “Whether I run or not, being considered is something that allows me to have a larger microphone.”
Just as potential rival Marco Rubio is elevating his national profile by taking the lead in crafting the immigration reform bill, the younger Paul has found ways to attract more publicity than usual for junior senators.
In recent months, he has:
>> Led a 13-hour Senate filibuster against the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan to spotlight his opposition to President Barack Obama’s use of unmanned drones against terrorist targets. His effort attracted an unusual array of bipartisan backers.
>> Reached out to African-Americans by speaking at predominantly black Howard University, challenging the GOP’s anti-minority image by noting its participation in the bipartisan coalitions enacting historic civil rights measures in the 1950s and 1960s. But he downplayed the party’s subsequent alliance with Southern civil rights foes.
>> Joined Rubio in supporting a comprehensive immigration bill despite strong opposition from many fellow conservatives to giving ultimate citizenship to many of the country’s 11 million illegal aliens.
>> Strongly opposed tightening federal firearms registration laws, joining fellow GOP conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in threatening a filibuster, if necessary, to kill it.
>> And unlike many fellow Republicans, endorsed embattled former Rep. Mark Sanford in last Tuesday’s South Carolina special election, a plus when Sanford won his old House seat.
>> Emphasized his party credentials in a joint Kentucky appearance to help Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell head off a possible Tea Party challenge.
Paul seems ahead of potential GOP rivals in plotting a White House bid. The fact that his father’s allies won control of some state GOP party machinery helps in places like Iowa, the leadoff caucus state. And in the first primary state of New Hampshire, a recent poll showed him with an early lead.
While any formal candidacies seem more than a year off, Paul seems to be already jockeying for conservative primacy with Cruz, the most outspokenly and combatively conservative, and Rubio. Interestingly, both Rubio and Paul took a longer general election view, breaking with GOP orthodoxy by backing immigration legislation.
Both Cruz and Paul have shown a penchant for controversial statements, though Paul generally has been less confrontational than Cruz.
But he does not mince words, accusing Obama at the breakfast with reporters of “politicizing” the Newtown elementary school massacre by using the families of survivors as “props.”
When asked which Democratic president he most admired, Paul cited Grover Cleveland, the conservative Democrat of the 1880s, and John F. Kennedy, for reducing taxes.
But he said “the media gave him (Kennedy) a pass.” And while calling Abraham Lincoln “a great politician,” he added, “I think he wasn’t a god, he was a politician, and he came into his glory because of some people who I think were even greater than he was,” citing “the abolitionists who pushed him kicking and screaming toward emancipation.”
Such comments at the peak of a campaign might attract more attention and controversy than now. Meanwhile, Paul is putting himself into position to be “part of the national debate” as 2016 nears.
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