Rand Paul’s emerging conservative crusade

January 23, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is quickly establishing himself as the conservative option in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Paul's statement at Wednesday's Senate hearing on Libya that he would have fired Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be replayed over and over on cable news in the hours to come. But it's hardly the first time he's put himself in the middle of a controversy — and chosen about the most conservative posture possible.

A recent sampling:

1. He had arguably the biggest soundbite of Clinton's Senate testimony Wednesday, saying, "Had I been president at the time, I would have relieved you of your post." Soon after, he sent video of his comments to his supporters with a paraphrase of that quote in the subject line.

2. On Monday, he came out against House Republicans' three-month debt ceiling extension, a bill that has gotten the approval (or at least avoided the opposition) of many conservative House Republicans and the conservative Club for Growth. “I saw the speaker on TV handing the newly sworn-in president a flag. I am afraid it was the white flag of surrender,” Paul said at an event in Charleston, S.C., according to Politico. Paul said Boehner "retreated" from the fight.

3. He was one of just five Senate Republicans to vote against the "fiscal cliff" deal on New Year's Day, calling it a "spending bill." He also offered this zinger: "You may not get any more revenue. You may not get any more economic growth. But you can say, ‘I stuck it to the rich people.' " Notably, Paul was joined by another 2016 contender, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

4. Paul last month opposed the Hurricane Sandy relief bill, offering an amendment that would have shrunk the amount of money appropriated to only the amount needed for one year.

5. Last week, he took a big swing at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) for Christie's recent criticisms of the NRA and the lack of a Sandy relief bill. “I think criticizing the Second Amendment movement and the over-the-top 'give me my money' stuff  — 'I want all 60 billion now or I'll throw a tantrum'  — I don't think that's going to play well in the Republican primary," Paul said.

(Side note: This Paul comment plus Paul's comment at Wednesday's hearing  — "Had I been president ..."  — are not mistakes. He's clearly interested in running for president and happy to be a part of the 2016 dialogue.)

This is not to say that Paul doesn't have some of his father's (Ron Paul) libertarianism in him. Paul has also recently aligned with Democrats on warrantless wiretapping and continues to speak out against foreign aid, even in the case of Israel.

But he's also got his dad's maverick streak, and he's been more than happy to put that on full display in the name of conservative causes.

The affect effect of this on the 2016 GOP presidential race should not be underestimated.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Aaron Blake · January 23, 2013