Across the board, Paul says, Republicans need to be open to accepting new ideas, or at the very least, willing to listen to new voices. On fiscal policy, he admires Paul Ryan’s push to balance the budget in a decade, but would prefer to see the budget balanced in five years. While Paul knows that his five-year plan is probably never going to get passed, he wants to be the Republican who is shaping the terms of every debate, so that tea-party perspectives or libertarian themes are included. “[Ryan’s] coming in the right direction,” he says. “He was at 28 years [to balance the budget] last year, and he’s come to ten. I think by having our plan out there at five, we have a lot of people coming in our direction.”
But it’s foreign policy that remains Paul’s chief focus. Before Paul can reshape the party’s program on national security, he knows he needs to spend time on the Senate floor, making his arguments colleague to colleague. “Five or six” Democrats, he says, have expressed their admiration for his determination to bring controversial topics to the fore. To him, those comments are a sign that there is room for future talks about passing legislation regarding national-security and personal liberty.
Of course, Paul is realistic (and pessimistic) about his chances of passing such bills in a Democratic-controlled Senate during the second term of the Obama presidency. But raising these issues keeps the conversation alive. Even when a filibuster fails, he says, the national attention for the idea is worth the effort.
Paul, who began his political career as an aide to his father’s presidential campaigns, is a firm believer that one politician, even if he is not fully embraced by GOP leaders, can change the direction of the party and the views of the base. The difference, perhaps, is that Ron Paul frequently played the outside game, railing against the establishment from the campaign trail, whereas Rand Paul has become a savvy legislative operator.
Paul’s filibuster has also stirred talk of a White House run in 2016. He says he’s open to the possibility. But for now, his campaign is within the marble halls of the Capitol, not in the Iowa cornfields. “You know, I just went to the floor,” he says, recalling how his famous filibuster started. “All of sudden, it just sort of happened.” You can say the same about the rapid ascent of Rand Paul.
— Robert Costa is National Review’s Washington editor.