Palm Beach, Fla. — Those who doubted that Rand Paul was will running for president need to change their minds after considering how he energized the conservative grass roots with his 13-hour Senate filibuster last week.
Paul took a narrow issue — as he put it, “whether an American can be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime” — and captured the attention of political activists. As social media lit up with praise for his efforts, many of his fellow senators joined him on the floor, in solidarity with his demand that the Obama administration answer a question it had legalistically evaded for days. Representative Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania was part of a group of House members who went to the Senate floor to “stand with Rand.” “The atmosphere was electric, “ he says. “Republicans felt we were advancing.”
The day after the filibuster, Attorney General Eric Holder capitulated and finally gave Paul a direct answer: “‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”
Rand Paul isn’t as direct when asked whether he is running for president, but he says he is “seriously” considering it. If he does enter the race, he will clearly do so by stepping out of what he views as an establishment straitjacket that keeps conservatives from communicating their message to young people, Hispanics, and disillusioned independents.
“We’ve got to appeal to younger voters, the West Coast, people who view Republicans as in league with crony capitalists and the wealthy, and those who are suspicious of endless foreign interventions,” he says. “Otherwise, we are going to become a niche product for red states.”
Much of the GOP establishment obviously resents Rand Paul’s arrival on the national stage. Take John McCain, who tangled frequently with Rand’s father, Ron Paul, when they both ran in the GOP primaries in 2008. A front-page photo in the New York Times captured him glowering as he happened to share an elevator with Rand Paul in the Capitol building last week. McCain told reporters that if the younger Paul “wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids.”
But at the annual Club for Growth meeting here in Palm Beach, it wasn’t kids in the audience who greeted Paul as a hero, giving him a standing ovation both before and after his talk last Friday. The Club for Growth is a group of sober-minded business owners and investors who have proved their political clout by helping elect tea-party-oriented senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rand Paul himself.
Some Club members are already in Paul’s corner for 2016. “He has broadened his appeal to include three issues that 75 percent of the American people agree with,” says George Yeager, an investment counselor from New York. “He wants a balanced-budget amendment, term limits, and a questioning of mindless nation-building overseas.”
Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator who is now president of the Heritage Foundation, told Club members that he “couldn’t think of a more dramatic contrast between some senators having dinner with President Obama on the same night last week that Rand Paul and his allies were making their courageous stand.” In his view, “the balance of power in the Senate GOP caucus is shifting.” He noted that key members of the Senate leadership, such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Jerry Moran of Kansas, came to the Senate floor in support of Paul’s effort.