EvenTheLiberal New Republic‘s Julia Ioffe examines “President Rand Paul“:
It was the first time in recent memory that the Iowa GOP Lincoln Day Dinner sold out nearly two weeks in advance, and it was on the strength of its headliner, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who, in turn, was invited on the strength of his 13-hour filibuster against the Obama administration’s use of drones. During the happy hour at a small Cedar Rapids hotel, local donors stood in line to have their pictures taken with Paul, almost completely ignoring their own congressmen, Representative Steve King and Senator Chuck Grassley. They had come to see Paul, and he got a standing ovation before he even started talking…
Agreed in advance: Rand “Thanksdad” Paul is a mean, half-bright legacy pol mostly interested in keeping the family grift machine chugging along for a new generation. And yet the last time the GOP found one of these smarmy Texan gated-community good ol’ boys to figurehead their presidential ticket, he garnered enough suckers’ votes to steal the Oval Office… twice. Don’t think Randy hasn’t learnt from Dubya’s “compassionate conservatism” schtick:
… And yet, in Iowa, Paul wasn’t completely content with easy applause. He didn’t even mention the IRS. What he really wanted to talk about, he told the crowd, “is immigration.” Earlier, King and Grassley had sounded defiant, nativist tones, condemning the moderate legislation suggested by the Senate’s Gang of Eight. Paul, however, voiced his disagreement and laid out his own proposals to reform work visas, secure the border, and legalize the migrants that are already here. The room grew noticeably quieter. “I also think that, as a party, we need to grow bigger,” he said to an audience that was entirely white, save for a lone Sudanese immigrant. “We’re an increasingly diverse nation, and I think we do need to reach out to other people that don’t look like us, don’t wear the same clothes, that aren’t exactly who we are.” The GOP, he said, needed to be more respectful. By this point, the crowd was silent.
Later, Paul told me that it was a good silence, the silence of people listening. “The Democrats have done a better job of being a party of people from all walks of life, and we need to do that,” he said. “We need to have working-class folks, we need to have people with earrings, nose rings, tattoos, ties, without ties, ponytails, no ponytails. One of the things where my dad was successful, was when you went to his rallies, you saw people from all walks of life.” And by the time Paul was done speaking that night in Cedar Rapids, by the time he showed that appealing to minorities was, also, a matter of utility, a strategy to once again become “the dominant national party,” the crowd was again up on its feet, hooting and applauding….
There’s a long dissection of how Paul slapped around Mitch McConnell, and McConnell’s formidable Kentucky political machine, not to mention many details of his current Senatorial behavior and the opinion of his Congressional peers. (Spoiler: They think he’s a spoilt show pony, not a team player, and seventeen kinds of a pain in the arse. And that’s the Republicans.) But Rand Paul isn’t interested in being a Senator for life, and it sounds to me like he’s aiming to replicate the success of a certain short-term Senator from Illinois:
… Because none of Paul’s measures ever pass, it is easy to dismiss him as a grandstander. “He’s essentially a non-entity as a legislator,” says the Democratic staffer. But Paul isn’t interested in an illustrious Senate career; he’s using the Senate as a platform to launch something far bigger. The kooky legislation? Perfect messaging to the base. Refusing to play by the Senate’s clubby rules? Exactly what the Tea Party sent him to Washington for. “His ideas are not brilliant, but he has an understanding of where the country is,” says the Republican staffer.
The biggest test of Paul’s larger ambitions is his relationship with the Republican establishment. If he wants to win the nomination, he needs the party’s power brokers; if he wants to keep his Tea Party credibility, he can’t appear too cozy with them. Many in the traditional conservative establishment—particularly the foreign policy hawks—have been wary of Paul, but they have come to recognize, and fear, his growing power. “I have to give him credit for political entrepreneurship,” says Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, describing Paul’s tactics as “demagogic.” “I think [the Republican establishment is] nervous about him; that’s the one thing about him I kind of like,” Kristol adds. “They think he’s got some real clout out there with the grassroots, which is why I’d say they’ve bent over backwards to be nice to him.”…
Remember, Bill Kristol is the man who brought Sarah Palin to national attention — she didn’t get McCain into the Oval Office, but she demonstrably made a difference (for the worst) in the politics of the last five years. I repeat myself: You can’t take your eyes off these people, not for a minute.