Rand Paul, the junior Republican senator from Kentucky, announced he will run for president on Tuesday. His campaign is already solidifying; his website lays out the mission of his campaign and his pledge to voters with the entreaty “Stand with Rand: defeat the Washington machine,” and it shows a growing tally of donations, which steadily crept tens of thousands of dollars higher in the minutes after his bid became official. Speaking from Louisville’s Galt House Hotel, before a carefully chosen crowd of supporters, he promised he was a different kind of Republican. After making his public statement, Paul embarked on a weeklong campaign tour of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, the key early primary states. He will also attend a fundraiser in Orange County, Calif., home to enclave of wealthy Republicans.
Chants of “President Paul” brought the senator to the stage. “I have a message,” he began. “We’ve come to take our country back. We have come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank, the special interests that are more concerned with their personal welfare than the general welfare.The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped.”
After winning this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll it would seem Paul has proven he is capable of capturing widespread appeal, at least within the Republican party. However, Paul’s libertarian leanings may present problems in his quest for his party’s nomination and in the broader election. The fact is libertarians are but a small minority in the United States. Evidence shows Paul is attempting to modifying his stances on key issues to be more aligned with the Republican base, an approach that could backfire if voters judge this reshaping to be only politically (and not ideologically) motivated. Here’s what we know about his nascent campaign thus far.
1. Paul could be on two ballots in November 2016 if he becomes the Republican nominee for president, as his senate seat will be up for reelection next year. Currently, Kentucky law prohibits a candidate from appearing twice on a single ballot. But it seems likely that the state’s GOP, thanks to the reluctant support of the state’s other senator, Republican heavyweight Mitch McConnell, will change that.
2. “I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government,” he said on his website.
3. He labeled himself a “different kind of Republican leader.” This may seem to be the usual political bromide peddled by wanna-be presidential nominees. And it is; the language is by no means inspired. But Paul’s decision to brand himself in this way is incredibly important to his campaign, as seen from his announcement event. His campaign is rooted in the promise that he can attract a younger and more diverse coalition of voters through his desire for a more restrained foreign policy, reforms of the criminal justice system, and for limitations on domestic spying. A video segment aired before Paul took the stage was clearly designed with that goal in mind. “Ask the Facebook generation if we should put a kid in jail for the nonviolent crime of drug use, and you’ll hear a resounding ‘no,’” Paul said on screen. “Ask the Facebook generation if they want to bail out too-big-to-fail banks with their tax dollars, and you’ll hear a ‘hell, no!’”
4. He argued the “conservative message” could “energize” these young voters of the “Facebook generation.” That message, in Paul’s own words, is that the American people should not “sit idly by and let our rights be trampled upon,” but “stand like men and women of character and say we are free, and no man, no matter how well-intentioned, will take our freedom from us.” To his assembled supporters, he added that “liberty is infectious” and “freedom is popular,” repackaging conservative themes in terms his team believes will appeal to young voters.
5. But Paul took his messaging beyond his typically libertarian talking points, adopting a tone unusual for a Republican presidential candidate; he spoke at length about inner-city poverty and promised to repeal “any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color.” The video introduction touched on the efforts he has made to visited heavily Latino and heavily black neighborhoods. “Liberal policies have exacerbated inequality in inner-city schools,” he said when taking the stage, calling that inequality further evidence there are still the “two Americas” that Martin Luther King described. He has given his support for both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, unlike many other Republicans.
6. Paul doesn’t fit easily into the mold of either party. His 25-minute speech outlining his small-government vision for the country drew on the themes that have made him popular. And he’s banking on the fact that his multi-dimensional views will appeal to American voters who find the choice between two, increasingly unpopular, factions unappealing. In the early years of his senate term, Paul showed himself to be a lawmaker who both criticizes the federal government’s surveillance apparatus and its use of drones on American citizens and wants to balance the budget; who supports the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment as well as the First and Tenth Amendments; who acknowledges his religious beliefs while arguing that the GOP “in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues”; and who believes the federal government should not prohibit gay marriage or the use of marijuana. And that persona drew applause from audiences that varied from students at the University of California, Berkeley cheering his criticism of the NSA to Republican insiders at CPAC, clapping at his pledge to “propose the largest tax cut in American history.”
7. And that’s why his campaign is important: Paul will force the GOP to stretch the Republican Party’s ideological constraints. A wide selection of publications, from the Washington Post to Politico, have used the description “the most interesting man in politics” to describe the senator, and Paul’s website prominently displays TIME Magazine’s cover story of the same title. His biggest advantage was that he had stood apart from Washington lawmakers, even among the GOP. By promising to change the Republican party, he gained prominence in the national political scene. But now that his presidential race has begun he has tweaked a number of his positions to fit the broader GOP rhetoric.
8. To stop the Washington machine, his speech called for a “return to a government restrained by the Constitution, a return to privacy, opportunity, liberty.” And then he took a shot at the GOP. “Too often when Republicans have won we have squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine.” But “that’s not who I am,” Paul claimed, attempting to presents himself as a man of the people, or the voice of the people, not a Washington insider.
9. Paul’s rationale for entering politics fits that image: “I ran for office because we have too many career politicians. I believe it now more than ever. We limit the president to two terms. It’s about time we limit the terms of Congress,” he pledged. In his speech, Paul pointed to his proposed “Read the Bills Act” as evidence of his desire to reform the political system. “The bills are thousands of pages long. And no one reads them. They are often plopped on our desks only a few hours before a vote,” he stated. “I’ve proposed something truly extraordinary — Let’s read the bills, every page!”
10. The American political system and politicians took the blame for damaging the country’s economic future. “I worry, though, that the opportunity and hope are slipping away for our sons and daughters. As I watch our once-great economy collapse under mounting spending and debt, I think, “What kind of America will our grandchildren see?”
11. As a remedy, he suggested: “Quit spending money we don’t have.” By doing that Americans will have more liberty, he contends. Because less debt means more opportunity for “all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you’re white or black, rich or poor.” The American people must force Congress to balance the budget, said Paul, and suggested a constitutional amendment that would do just that.
12. He is expected to run on a “flat tax,” a controversial reform the Wall Street Journal described as a good idea to “increase economic growth and reduce the sort of favoritism that lets the rich and powerful use politicians to game the tax code.” While Paul did not mention the flat tax by name, he did criticize the political system for exacerbating inequality. “Under the watch of both parties, the poor seem to get poorer and the rich get richer,” he proclaimed. “Politically connected crones get taxpayer dollars by the hundreds of millions and poor families across America continue to suffer.”
13. As a solution Paul proposed the controversial concept of economic freedom zones, where taxes for the rich and corporations will be lowered to 5%, to allow impoverished areas like Detroit, West Louisville, Eastern Kentucky to “prosper.” He also wants to bring back manufacturing jobs to the United States by lowering the corporate tax rate, which will have the added benefit of spurring infrastructure spending.
14. Paul then dropped his foreign policy bomb. “Without question we must defend ourselves and American interests from our enemies, but until we name the enemy, we can’t win the war,” he said. “The enemy is radical Islam. You can’t get around it.” Paul’s foreign policy has evolved in recent months; he has put aside his signature non-interventionism in favor of the muscular rhetoric of his peers, which is far more convenient as the Americans become more concerned with the unrest in the Middle East. In March, he introduced an amendment that would increase the defense budget by $190 billion, a significant reversal from his 2011 proposal to lower defense spending and cut war funding from $159 billion to zero. Critics judge this to be be political opportunism, while other analysts argue his evolution was natural given the growing threat of the Islamic State He himself focused on the necessity of defending “against enemies who are dead set on attacking us” in order to achieve freedom and prosperity at home.
15. While Paul envisions “an America with a national defense unparalleled … [and] undefeatable,” he also wants the military to be “unencumbered by overseas nation-building.” To explain, he paraphrased Reagan. “I envision a national defense that promotes … peace through strength.” One could argue Obama has a similar ethos, but Paul sees a key difference: The president negotiates from “a place of weakness.” The United States does “not project strength by borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan,” in Paul’s opinion.
16. Increasingly, much of his rhetoric is standard Republican fare. Like George W. Bush, he wants to partially privatize Social Security, increase the retirement age, and cut benefits for upper-middle-class earners. Like 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed in his budget, he wants to privatize Medicare and block-grant Medicaid and food stamps.
17. On the key foreign policy issue of the moment — Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran — Paul announced he stands with GOP: a deal should be approved by Congress. And, noting that he is concerned “the Iranians have a different interpretation of the agreement,” it seems unlikely he is in favor of the terms.
18. Here’s his vision for the country: “I see an America strong enough to deter foreign aggression, yet wise enough to avoid unnecessary intervention. I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed. I see an America with a restrained IRS that cannot target, cannot harass American citizens for their political or religious beliefs. I see our big cities once again shining and beckoning with creativity and ingenuity.”
19. Some analysts have remarked on the inevitability of his presidential bid. He campaigned vigorously for his father Ron Paul, the firebrand libertarian, in 2012. However, not only has Paul taken a noteworthy turn from his father’s clarity in his political beliefs, but he is also approaching his campaign differently. Ron Paul kept his focus on creating a libertarian movement, while Rand Paul is planning a more strategic operation to capture the White House.
20. Paul knows he can’t win simply as Ron Paul’s son. Sure, he did benefit from his the notoriety his father’s back-to-back presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. But his willingness to fight his own party on issues gave him his own credibility. To win the Republican primary, however, he will have to balance the desires of the party’s various factions, including those of the supporters he inherited from his libertarian father.
21. Rand Paul has perhaps the most extensively documented political beliefs of any potential presidential candidate, even though he has not even served one complete term after riding a wave of Tea Party enthusiasm into the Senate in 2010. His reputation as libertarian hero rests on the 13-hour filibuster he led in opposition to President Obama’s drone policy and John O. Brennan’s nomination as CIA director.
22. Ted Cruz is the only other Republican to have announced officially. Marco Rubio has promised a April 13 announcement, and Jeb Bush is expected to enter the race soon after.
23. So can a libertarian win the Republican primary? It is generally believe that Paul is more a libertarian in style than in substance. Now that he has made his formal announcement, Paul is reacting to the pressures that come with a presidential bid. Having trimmed his positions and rhetoric to be more aligned with what the Republican base expects, it is much less clear what kind of Republican he will present himself as as the election draws nearer. For now, his brand of politics place him as an outlier, and during the Republican primaries, when candidates are showing off their conservative credentials, Paul will stand out with his views on education, drug sentencing, and the legalization of marijuana. Plus, even with his evolving views on foreign policy, he is no hawk. Still, he did win the CPAC straw poll. Plus the supporters he has now will “run into a burning building to vote for him,” as Stu Rothenberg, founder of the Rothenberg Political Report told NPR.
24. What about moderate voters? Even in the primaries, some voters Paul hopes to win over are not part of the typical Republican base, like college students. And it is important that the groups he is courting take his new perspective on issues like foreign policy as sincere. But he also reversed his position on the issue of gay marriage. Previously, he said he believed the decision on whether to allow or note allow same-sex unions should be left to the states. But when speaking before a group of pastors in late March, he said there is a “moral crisis that allows people to think there would be some other sort of marriage,” aside from traditional marriage, according to the CBS coverage of the event. That will sit well with evangelical voters in Iowa, but not the young voters Paul is trying to attract to the GOP. Support for gay marriage is at an all-time high, according to a recent WSJ/NBC poll that confirms how quickly social attitudes are changing.
25. Paul is running at the top of the polls. But some say Paul may have missed his ideological moment. His rise in the polls came as fellow Republicans began to appreciate the merits of his non-interventionist foreign policy, which has now been thrown by the wayside. Still, his campaign bank account is full of donations, and he has a strong network set up in early primary states. “Nobody is running better against Hillary Clinton than myself,” he told Fox News.
26. But Democrats argue Paul represents the “same old” Republican party. “On issue after issue his policies are the same as the rest of the GOP, but even more extreme, and will turn back the clock on the progress we have made,” said Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement obtained by CNN.
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