How Rand Paul Bent the GOP in a More Libertarian Direction


The New Republic has a good new cover profile out of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), by Julia Ioffe, treating him as a serious and interesting 2016 GOP White House contender, albeit with an ideology "more radical than that of any modern presidential candidate." While you may disagree with the scare-headlines and some of Ioffe's framing, she contributes plenty of new material to the subject, particularly in depicting the way Paul has forced himself on the same GOP establishment that initially tried to thwart his political ambitions. For instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky):

After [Paul] beat [Democratic Senate candidate Jack] Conway by eleven points, McConnell kept Paul close. He got him an office near his own and placed him on the Foreign Relations Committee. "The perception is McConnell fears him," says a Republican Senate staffer. […]

"McConnell has moved toward Rand Paul more than Rand Paul has moved toward McConnell," says John David Dyche, McConnell's biographer. McConnell has thrown his support behind Paul's efforts to legalize hemp production, both in Kentucky and nationally. He joined Paul's drone filibuster and threatened to vote against the nomination of John Brennan for CIA chief. And he has changed how he manages the factions within the Republican caucus. "He used to do a good job bridging the divide … but he can't do that anymore, so there" basically no leader over there because there needs to be no daylight between him and Rand Paul, whatsoever, for the next two years," says the Senate staffer. "You can make a case," says the Democratic leadership staffer, "that he's the most powerful Senator in the Republican caucus."

Neoconservatives and the Obama administration are also issuing praise for Paul through gritted teeth:

Many in the traditional conservative establishment—particularly the foreign policy hawks—have been wary of Paul, but they have come to recognize, and fear, his growing power. "I have to give him credit for political entrepreneurship," says Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, describing Paul's tactics as "demagogic." "I think [the Republican establishment is] nervous about him; that's the one thing about him I kind of like," Kristol adds. "They think he's got some real clout out there with the grassroots, which is why I'd say they've bent over backwards to be nice to him." […]

His drone filibuster forced the Department of Justice to issue a formal response, earned him the White House's grudging respect—"at least the guy actually did it," one official told me—and significantly moved public opinion on the issue. Meanwhile, his hard-line fiscal and anti-government views have gained growing traction within the GOP. "The party is more libertarian than it used to be," says [Paul's GOP primary oppnent Trey] Grayson, now the director of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School. "Clearly there's more talk of reducing the deficit, and Rand is one of the leaders of this movement. It's fair to give him a share of that credit." During the immigration debate, Paul has for the first time talked openly about his newfound clout, referring to himself as "a bridge between the House and the Senate." "If they don't listen to me, they make a mistake," he has said of his Senate colleagues.

Whole thing here. Read archival Reason profiles of Rand Paul from May 2010 and June 2011; check out our Twitter Q&A with the senator from two weeks ago, and/or watch our March 2011 interview for Reason.tv: