Paul to Launch 2016 Bid as a "Different Kind of Republican"
Welcome to Rand Paul Week.
On Tuesday, the Kentucky lawmaker will become the second candidate, and second freshman senator, to officially enter the 2016 presidential race. His formal campaign launch in Louisville is designed to cast him as a “different kind of Republican” who can take on Washington.
Running as a D.C. outsider could be a difficult undertaking for Paul, who has spent the past four years on Capitol Hill and recently moved his family to the district.
But Paul is considered an outsider when it comes to the rest of the Republican field, especially regarding foreign policy. It’s a calling card that, on the one hand, underscores his appeal among the Libertarian following he has tapped into and cultivated, but also highlights the challenge he faces in winning the nomination as the GOP harks back to its hawkish roots.
Nearly two years ago, Paul stood on the Senate floor for 13 hours in protest of the Obama administration’s drone policy. That filibuster -- in response to the nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA -- and his vehement opposition to government spying helped make Paul a star among his base of supporters.
But a lot has changed in the world since then. The rise of ISIS and rapidly growing threats of terrorism, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear development program, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the brittle relationship between the United States and Israel, have Americans increasingly concerned about national security. (A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last month found 52 percent of general election voters favored a presidential candidate who supports military force to combat ISIS. Among Republicans, 79 percent preferred a candidate who backed military intervention.)
The shifting landscape could complicate this physician’s path to the nomination and require him to demonstrate agility in maintaining support among his base while also assuaging broader concerns within the party about his ability to be a strong commander in chief.
Paul seems to have acknowledged the need to adapt to the turbulent times at hand. He proposed a $190 billion increase in defense spending during a Senate session last month. (His amendment flopped, however.) After announcing his campaign in Louisville, Paul will travel to New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada. In the Palmetto State he will speak in front of the USS Yorktown, a World War II-era aircraft carrier, where he will likely address foreign policy concerns.
A video promoting his Tuesday announcement includes a clip from a CPAC speech earlier this year in which Paul advocated for a government “that protects your rights and your security. It should include a stronger, better, and more agile military.”
Given the role foreign policy is likely to play in this election, the Paul campaign faces headwinds within his party. “There’s a lot in the libertarian philosophy Republicans find attractive,” strategist and consultant Karl Rove said Monday on Fox News. “But he’s sort of stuck in between these things with events in the Middle East making Republicans return to their normal peace-through-strength philosophy.”
Republican rivals are wasting no time highlighting this challenge. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who announced his campaign two weeks ago, has also been telling listeners at his events that “the world is on fire.” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is also considering a run, went so far as to say Hillary Clinton would be better suited than Paul in confronting Iran’s nuclear program.
"The best deal I think comes with a new president,” Graham said Sunday in an interview with CBS, commenting on the preliminary nuclear agreement reached with Iran last week. “Hillary Clinton would do better. I think everybody on our side except maybe Rand Paul could do better."
Graham and Paul will both be in New Hampshire on Wednesday. The state has a libertarian streak to which Paul can appeal—his father, then-Rep. Ron Paul, placed second there in the 2012 primary—but it is also a place attuned to national defense and security issues (it is home to 100,000 veterans, and James Foley, the American journalist whose brutal beheading by ISIS rocked the nation, hailed from New Hampshire). Paul is polling third in the Granite State, behind Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, according to the RCP average. Campaign launches can often help improve early poll numbers, as evidenced by Cruz last week.
Notably, Paul has yet to comment on the Iran agreement. While his 2016 rivals rushed to release statements critical of the deal, Paul spent the week “out of pocket” with his family ahead of his presidential campaign launch.
With few substantive differences separating the rest of the GOP presidential field, Paul is clearly in a league of his own. But while his base is active, energetic, and diverse, it isn’t large enough to carry him to the head of the pack. Perhaps in response to this, the senator has been working to broaden his appeal. His outreach to inner city communities, visits to historically black colleges, and advocacy for prison sentencing reforms are hallmarks of an effort to make inroads with a wider range of voters, which can convey a sense of national electability.
“His outreach work to the black community, which for too long has been a solid and reliable voting bloc for Democrats that the GOP has barely tried to compete for, is reminiscent of the late Jack Kemp,” writes conservative Iowa talk radio host Steve Deace, who has been compiling “scouting reports” on the 2016 Republican contenders. “He's in select company among the GOP who are willing to go and speak to unfriendly or skeptical audiences to expand the party.”
Paul’s presidential campaign will also tap into public disgust in and distrust of the Washington establishment. Like Walker, Marco Rubio, and other new candidates not named Bush, Paul is positioning himself as a fresh face intent upon changing how governing is done in Washington. But he is also embracing his status as a “different kind of Republican.”
In another clip from the CPAC speech included in his pre-announcement video, Paul says it’s “time for a new way, a new set of ideas, a new leader, one you can trust, one that works for you, and above all, a new president.”
While he has been testing the waters in early states for some time, this week will mark Paul’s first visits as a declared presidential candidate. He will get plenty of media attention around the campaign launch, and will largely enjoy the week to himself, as no other Republicans are expected to enter the race just yet. Next week, however, will be a different story. Marco Rubio plans to launch his campaign in Miami on Monday, becoming the third senator to join the fray. Hillary Clinton’s announcement is expected within the next two weeks.