Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) demonstrated in his filibuster of John Brennan exactly why he is a formidable force and why 2016 contenders and their supporters should be nervous.
Paul, in carrying on a filibuster hour after hour gaining adherents including the minority leader who vowed to oppose cloture, demonstrated remarkable discipline, and I don’t just refer to his ability to stay on his feet. At times he ventured into skepticism about the war on terror itself, but he largely kept his remarks on issues (constitutional protection, separation of powers, President Obama’s executive imperialism) that will unite all Republicans and a great many libertarians and even independents. He talked conversationally and fluently, even when voicing views with which some hawks disagree (i.e., whether a war can go on without time and geographic limits). He appeared principled but not unhinged, managing to unite Republicans and put the left and the media (I repeat) on defense for not having taken up the drone cause themselves and for failing to demand any level of transparency from an administration that has refused to cough up information on everything from the Osama bin Laden files to the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. And Paul used his time wisely, not merely reading from speeches or documents (or the phone book, as in the old-style filibusters), but speaking about the danger of aggregating power in the executive.
Paul has a sense of political timing few others have. He simply grabbed the floor on a snow day without much else going on and managed to get the attention of the entire political chattering class. He didn’t make a to-do about getting votes to defeat cloture; he conducted an actual, talking filibuster, which proved to be interesting and dramatic.
It is an interesting contrast to the CPAC disaster this week. This is, if you will, the New Right vs. the Old Right. Strict ideology isn’t what separates them, although there are some clear differences. (Paul has favored allowing states to decide same-sex marriage and has backed immigration reform.) Rather, it is the degree of media savviness, flair for the dramatic, and principled opposition that divides a fading old guard from the GOP’s future leaders.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has a different approach to national security and a different persona. But he, too, has shown a political flair, an ability to take on his own party (for example, on immigration) without being disagreeable and an adeptness at seizing the media spotlight. He too joined the filibuster, quoting rappers and The Godfather. The New Right, you see, is culturally clued in and entirely comfortable using old and new media. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) read Tweets encouraging Paul you realized this is not your father’s GOP.
There is a reason Rubio and Paul, different in many respects, are rising above the crowd these days and getting heaps of media attention. They are both excellent politicians with a good read on the national mood. They both cut across partisan lines, each in his own way, and seem unlike other run-of-the-mill politicians. They remind us that politics is in large part about performance and persuasion. Both of these men have proven skilled practitioners of 21st century politics. However one feels about them as future candidates for higher office (and I’d submit we should stop evaluating office-holders on that basis for now), they provide guidance to the party on how to innovate and refresh a movement that has grown stale and ineffective.
The entire GOP got a shot in the arm, and as he was in the sequester, the president was outfoxed on substance and style. One senator — that is all it takes.