Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) hopes to bring a little shock and awe to the 2016 Republican presidential-primary season.
“All this week is going to be is a reminder of why Rand Paul was, six months ago, considered on many people’s list to be the front runner,” former Texas Republican-party chairman Steve Munisteri, now a senior adviser to Paul, tells National Review. “After this week, people are going to go, ‘You know what, this guy is going to be a serious contender for the nomination.’”
Paul intends to demonstrate that he has held fast to the limited-government principles that made him a national Tea Party favorite in 2010, while also attracting support from minorities who normally are reliable Democratic-party voters. His potential to do so makes the senator “a transformational candidate,” Munisteri says — an aspiration that recalls then-senator Barack Obama’s goal of matching Ronald Reagan’s influence on the country. Paul can’t do anything if he doesn’t win, though, and so his team has scheduled a battery of events in the first four primary states. Whereas 2012 saw Mitt Romney fend off an array of underfunded and disorganized opponents, Paul aims to prove that he has the campaign infrastructure needed to defeat Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.
“He’s flexing his organizational muscle,” says Jesse Benton, who is married to Paul’s niece and was close in his confidence even before, a few weeks ago, he moved to a super PAC supporting the libertarian-leaning senator’s presidential bid. “Rand is running to prove that he is a guy who can beat Hillary Clinton, and if you want to do that you’ve got to do big things.”
Whereas Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) made a play for the evangelical vote by announcing his candidacy at Liberty University (a move that, some GOP operatives observe, relieved him of having to generate his own crowd), Paul has planned a five-state swing that will take him to New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina. The tour starts with a 20-minute speech at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky.
“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding of what Rand stands for and this gives him a chance to lay out a clear vision on both the domestic front but also, equally importantly, on a foreign-policy front,” Munisteri says. “People presume that he agrees with his father on every single issue; he agrees with his father on a wide range of issues, [but] he still has his own particular positions on the issues.”
#related#Munisteri’s comments contradict pundits and rivals who suggest that the Kentucky senator faces a dilemma: How can Rand Paul maintain the base of libertarian support that made Ron Paul a national star without hitting the political ceiling imposed by the former Texas congressman’s foreign-policy views? Rick Reed, the GOP operative whose Swift Boat ad campaign torpedoed John Kerry’s presidential prospects in 2004, will launch a round of ads against Paul timed to coincide with his announcement. “Paul supports more negotiations with Iran while standing against more sanctions that would hold the Iranian regime accountable,” Reed told Bloomberg View. “That’s not a conservative position, that’s Obama’s position.”
Paul has never taken kindly to Republican critiques of his foreign policy, which he says mischaracterize his views — “If you’re going to take a whack at Rand, he’s going to take a whack at you back,” Benton told NR in December — but his allies believe he represents the mainstream of public opinion on national-security matters.
“There is a broad agreement in the Republican party that we need to strengthen the military, we need a stronger national defense, we need to be judicious about where we get involved — particularly with direct military force — but when we do, it needs to be overwhelming and we need to have a clear plan for victory,” Benton says. “I don’t know what the percentage is — 15–20 percent of the Republican party wants to run headlong into another ground war, and that’s what they really want? — Rand’s not going to be their guy, but we’ll be happy with the 85 percent.”
If that assessment holds true, rivals concede, then Paul has a path that should at least lead him close to the GOP nomination. “Cruz, [Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott] Walker, and Paul — all three of them could win it, but none of them are going to get last,” says one GOP operative affiliated with another 2016 hopeful, before suggesting that the trio have built field operations comparable to the team Mitt Romney assembled in the run-up to the 2012 election cycle.
The Kentucky senator enjoys the kind of respect among Republican activists that Romney struggled to earn during his 2008 and 2012 runs, though, and that’s one of the reasons his team thinks he has such a high ceiling.
“This guy would be really serious when he got in there about restraining the size and scope of government and that would be transformational because most of the time Republican administrations just have a slower rate of growth than Democratic administrations,” Munisteri says. “The other reason he’s transformational is that he goes into these communities that Republicans talk about [going into] but never do,” he adds, referring to Paul’s speech at Berkeley last year and his outreach to black Americans.
Despite their optimism about assembling a novel coalition, Paul’s team understands that he might have to compete with Cruz for some voters. And although Paul has not hesitated in the past to throw a brushback pitch at Cruz, Munisteri suggests that they’ll try to keep out of each other’s way for the moment.
“I think we think we are the likely beneficiaries of Cruz supporters, if he were to falter, and I think Cruz people think that they are the likely beneficiary of Paul supporters,” he says. “So, right now, I think both camps are being exceptionally nice to one another.”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.