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Rand’s Stand Shakes Up the 2016 Landscape

Even if the senator decides against a run -- and the chances of a run shot up this week -- other GOP hopefuls will be held to the filibuster-chutzpah standard.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

March 7, 2013 - 7:35 pm

When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) launched into his nearly 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of new CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday, some conservatives on Twitter quipped that the young Paul was proving he’s a chip off the old Ron.

But Sen. Paul emerged from his filibuster feat with more than just a brief response on domestic drone strikes from Attorney General Eric Holder, which the lawmaker lauded as a victory. In just a couple of years in the Senate, he has moved the ball further on a viable presidential run for a self-described libertarian candidate than his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), did in two presidential tries.

On a Hill of back-room deal-making and politically expedient votes, Paul’s accomplishment — which never resorted to the phone-book-reading, aimless time-filling filibusters of old — stood out as a politician who was wiling to stand up — and not sit, use the loo or eat a meal other than his covert bites of candy — for what he believes is right. In an age where the right social media buzz can make C-SPAN must-see TV, he got exactly the right coverage in all the right corners.

It’s a stretch to suggest that Paul staged this as some sort of early campaign event — after all, before this week he’d gotten scant attention for his repeated hammering of the administration on drone use, and a filibuster is a rather painful way to get attention. But in the morning after, when the filibuster was over and Brennan was confirmed, something was different on the 2016 landscape.

Perhaps it was the unifying constitutionalist message that united unlikely bedfellows on the right and left, so much so that Code Pink hand-delivered flowers and chocolates to his office this morning. Perhaps it was seeing #StandWithRand still reigning as the trending topic on Twitter 12 hours later, and realizing he has the ability to strike a real chord in a grass-roots weary of being fed manufactured politicians. Perhaps it was the revelation that a candidate who has simply made constitutionalism cool would be able to credibly pull down partisan barriers in a general election.

Whatever image he forged of his own doing Wednesday, it was burnished today by the Senate floor attempt of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to tarnish Paul.

“I watched some of that, quote, debate, unquote, yesterday. I saw colleagues who know better come to the floor and voice some of this same concern, which is totally unfounded,” McCain said, adding it was “ridiculous” and “a stretch of the imagination” to “allege or infer that the President of the United States is going to kill somebody like Jane Fonda, or somebody who disagrees with the policies.”

“To my Republican colleagues, I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone,” Graham said. “…To my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war. Not Senator Paul, he’s a man to himself.”

McCain and Graham had originally threatened to block the Brennan nomination themselves over outstanding questions about the Benghazi attacks, but that opposition evaporated and both senators cast their votes in favor of confirmation.

Paul’s effort started with a core of supporters, chiefly Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), but higher-ranking senators wandered in during the later hours of the filibuster to be on record with the once-in-a-blue-moon event, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), giving the impression that Paul was delivering crushing peer pressure to his colleagues. House members caught up in the contagious enthusiasm of the moment also found seats in the chamber.

While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today offered praise for Paul’s, shall we say, control — “to succeed, you need strong convictions but also a strong bladder” — some other Democrats slammed and ridiculed the Paulibuster.

“No drone is going to be used in the United States against an American citizen walking down a street or sitting in a cafe,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC. “And you know, and then there was a stupid example of a drone being used against Jane Fonda. I mean, I don’t think this is befitting the Senate floor.”

On CNN, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the only Democrat to help Paul’s filibuster, said “this debate is not essentially about Jane Fonda.”

“I think you’re going to see Democrats and Republicans here in the United States Senate — we kind of call ourselves the checks and balances caucus — spending a lot of time trying to bring to light consistent with national security more details about the drone program,” he said.

Paul came to the Senate on a wave of Tea Party backing, but his time in Washington has been a rapid-fire evolution during which he’s immersed himself in the system, forged relationships, learned the ropes, and taken chances.

Mocking the filibuster and providing reading material for McCain’s arguments on the floor, The Wall Street Journal ripped Paul in an editorial accusing him of using the snowstorm for “theatrical timing.”

“The filibuster filled the attention void on Twitter and cable TV. If only his reasoning matched the showmanship,” the WSJ wrote, adding that the president should have the right to drone enemies on U.S. soil and beyond.

Even if Paul’s meteoric 13-hour rise doesn’t materialize into a presidential run next time out, it could shape the dynamics of the race with sharpened expectations of a candidate to have the kind of chutzpah and conviction that attract a similar swath of cheering filibuster followers.

Dubbed by TIME the “savior” of the GOP, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) carved out his time on the floor last night, quoting rapper Wiz Khalifa and lending his support to Paul.

By today, though, Rubio also lent his support to Brennan, expressed in a statement that interjected himself as a point man for Paul’s signature issue.

“Earlier today, I informed the White House that I would oppose further consideration of John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director until Attorney General Eric Holder answered Senator Rand Paul’s question about whether non-combatant American citizens could be targeted by drones on American soil,” Rubio said. “Now that the question has been answered and the President has acknowledged that he does not, in fact, possess such authority, I intend to support cloture on John Brennan’s nomination and will vote to confirm him.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was with Paul for the long haul, and read supportive Twitter messages to his colleagues the Kentuckian plugged along. His campaign committee was fundraising off Paul’s filibuster today, sending supporters a #StandWithRand email featuring a photoshopped picture of the pair and a link leading to a donation page for Ted Cruz for Senate. A $13 donation — a buck for each hour Paul was on the floor — was encouraged.

Paul has hinted at 2016 aspirations, though, saying that a libertarian Republican is best poised to return the government and party to its constitutional underpinnings and appeal to voters from coast to coast.

The senator doesn’t have one of the “rock star” time slots at CPAC, but neither does Rubio: On the most recent schedule, Rubio speaks at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, followed by Paul at 1:30 p.m.

But in the world of presidential politics, where it can soil one’s chances to get anointed by special-interest and establishment groups too early, a memorable spotlight in the wee hours of the Senate can have a more lasting impact on voters than a convention keynote.

Races are invariably about more than optics, and it’s telling that Paul has been trying to display a more tempered stance on foreign policy than his isolationist father — though the senator readily espouses non-interventionist views among his more surprising turns. “Any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States,” he said in January after returning from the Jewish state, where he advocated a reduction in military aid. He’s also new on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this Congress.

But if Benghazi’s ultimately limited role in the 2012 election is any indication, Paul’s foreign policy may be the least concern of voters looking for someone with fire in his or her belly — and for a Republican Party yearning for a candidate passionate enough to outshine Hillary Clinton both with the base and beyond.

And it was a key tenet of Paul’s argument last night that will strike a chord with voters from CPAC to Anonymous (which also tweeted in support of Paul): Do you live under a government that has grown too powerful, too agenda-driven, that it can arbitrarily broaden the definition of “extremist” to constitutionally protected individuals and act against said individuals in the interest of the state?

When asked on Fox today what he might have done differently, Paul replied, “I would have eaten a bigger breakfast.”

“I was fortunate that the floor was open, and that I had an issue I cared passionately about,” he said. “And I think it’s a good idea for the country to have a real debate sometimes about does the Bill of Rights apply. Some of the questions aren’t easy.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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Top Rated Comments   
Senator Paul showed his character and moral strength. I will vote for him in 2016.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (19)
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Is Rand Paul opposed to the use of drones (or any other military means) to take out U.S. citizens hiding out in foreign lands (and specifically the 'badlands' or war zones of those places); these said U.S. citizens waging war or fomenting others to wage war against America?

If so, then Rand Paul is wrong.

Did Attorney General Eric Holder say that it was hypothetically possible (...that is to say, legal...) for America to use military stikes against U.S. citizens here in America "under special circumstances"?

Then, he is correct. Any of you here ever heard of the American Civil War? The U.S. government never recognized the legitimacy of the Confederate States of America, and regarded the rebel population as U.S. citizens and the territory of their states as U.S. territory. That didn't prevent us from waging 'total war' against the rebel enemy. (Think of the artillery bombardment of whole cities, the scorched Earth tactics employed by Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, or Sherman's March to the Sea, etc.)

By "special circumstances" Holder could have meant, in situations were U.S. citizens commit acts of aggression against fellow Americans, while operating from a piece of American territory not under firm civil control. This would require the use of the miltary. (Even in riot situations, things can get sufficiently out of control [...control by civil law enforcement...], that the Governor would be required to deploy the National Guard [a military force] to bring things back into control.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Senator Paul could very well be the next President. If he continues to stand up to the democrat and backs it up with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights then if no one comes along even better; I'd have to vote for him. You know where he stands on things unlike most of the politicians.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is a point where far left and far right join hands, and I regret to see it here: please read at least one of these blogs on neo-isolationism:http://clarespark.com/2013/03/07/blogs-on-neo-isolationism/. The most so far has been Phillip Smyth's piece on Ron Paul.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Rand's fili did much in letting his colleagues reveal their own character: establishment Repubs have never had an issue with executive authority to drone whomever, while establishment Dems are on board solely because their guy is POTUS. Rand did something rare in DC - he stood on principle. And agree or disagree with him, at least you knew why.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As an Iowa resident, I will take a very close look at Rand Paul. That is something I never did with Ron Paul because I always thought his foreign policy was too radical. I don't get that from Rand and I look forward to meeting him during the caucus season should he decide to run.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At last !! New red blood replacing the tired old RINO turncoats !!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“No drone is going to be used in the United States against an American citizen walking down a street or sitting in a cafe,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC.

Senator Feinstein, with your record I am not convinced that you would tell the truth, either way, under any circumstances. As I am a second generation Californian, I am familiar with your double speak. Why don't you come to the San Joaquin Valley and blather your babble to us instead of your fellow elitists in the Bay area. We would be glad to serve you some water if we had any.... it's being stolen from agriculture to help the "fishes" at your behest. Since you and your fellow elitists want to destroy all the dams and reservoirs storing water that used to be for agriculture, what say you to lead by example and remove the dam on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. John Muir said that valley rivaled Yosemite in natural beauty. Oh... silly me... your group is a firm believer in hypocrisy, isn't it? We expect to get the same level of protection here as those in Benghazi got from our administration.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm not sure how Jane Fonda is a silly example, since she basically did the same thing that the America we drone striked did - produce propaganda
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Was he (Anwar al-Aulaqi) inciting others to take up arms against America, its people, its military personnel? If so, and he were doing it from inside the United States (specifically, an area under civil control), then he would be liable to arrest. (Note, that this is incitement to VIOLENCE we are talking about, not the nonsense of "incitement to HATE" which is at the heart of "hate speech" laws.) But, if Aulaqi was doing this from the badlands (..."badlands", areas not under civil control, but an area of bandits, tribes, warlords, etc. ...) of Yemen, then the U.S. government has every right to use military means to take him out.

I don't know what words Jane Fonda had used in her speaches and interviews while in North Vietnam, but had she encouraged the enemy to kill our troops, and furthermore, had elected to stay in enemy territory or in a war zone, then, yes, we would have had the right to kill her. As it turned out, she came back; and the government perhaps weighed the possibility of trying her for treason.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
D'oh. That was almost coherent. But the guy we used drones against was merely a writer. Heck, I doubt he wrote anything worse than say, Noam Chomsky or Paul Krugman writes. Would I like to drone strike them? Well, a little. But it would be wrong.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hell of a good effort...If I could just figure the man out...
He voted "for" Hagel because he believes that Presidents have the prerogative to appoint. Presumably, he could have acknowledged the Senate's role of declining to support the President's choice. Paul's rationale is that somewhere down the line a republican will wish to appoint
... and then what? Well, senator, the dems will "Bork" him or her.

You have a few years, 2 really, to refine yourself from a very rough, uncut diamond into a gem.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Senator Paul showed his character and moral strength. I will vote for him in 2016.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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