Rand Paul and the rise of the libertarian Republican

June 10, 2013

Give Sen. Rand Paul this: He very rarely misses a political pitch slung his way.


Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. AP photo.

The latest evidence is Paul's (R-Ky.) plan to launch a class action lawsuit against the government for the National Security Agency's collection of phone records and monitoring of Internet data. "If we get 10 million Americans saying we don’t want our phone records looked at, then somebody will wake up and say things will change in Washington," Paul argued during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

Paul's seizing on the NSA issue comes less than three months after he made national headlines for his filibuster of the nomination of now-CIA Director John Brennan. And both issues have a narrative string connecting them: Paul as the most visible defender of civil liberties not only in the Senate, but in elected office right now.

That's a very good place to be given the rising tide of libertarianism in the country. As we noted in our newspaper column today, the emerging majorities in favor of allowing gays to marry and pot to be smoked without penalty suggest that libertarianism has found a real foothold in American politics, particularly among young people who strongly favor both proposals.

“The way we’re going to compete is by running people for office who can appreciate some issues that attract young people and independents: civil liberties, as well as a less aggressive foreign policy, not putting people in jail for marijuana, a much more tolerant type of point of view,” Paul told Spencer Ackerman during an interview for Wired magazine late last month.

What's not clear is whether the Republican Party is ready for the sort of message that Paul embodies. While polling suggests that the American public wants gay marriage, for example, to be legal, that's not a view that a majority of Republicans hold. And Rand's father, Ron, saw any chance of emerging as a viable alternative candidate to Mitt Romney dashed in 2012 by his refusal to back away from a non-interventionist foreign policy. Can a "less aggressive foreign policy" -- in Rand Paul's words -- be sold to a party that made a name for itself during the 1980s by pushing the necessity of military might?

All of that will be litigated when Paul runs -- oops, we mean if Paul runs (silly mistake) -- for president in 2016. But there is no question now that Paul will find a constituency of libertarian-minded Republicans that exceeds the number his father wooed in 2008 and 2012. Will it be enough? That's why we run the races.

NSA leaker comes forward: The man responsible for some of the most significant leaks in history about American intelligence gathering came forward Sunday.

Edward Snowden, 29, identified himself as the person responsible for the information provided to both The Washington Post and The Guardian over the past week. He said he did so because “it’s important to send a message to government that people will not be intimidated.”

Snowden, who has contracted for the NSA and currently works for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, is currently in Hong Kong and said he is seeking asylum in a country that will protect him. The semiautonomous country does have an extradition agreement with the United States, though.

Earlier this weekend, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said the NSA initiated an investigation into who leaked information to the Post and the Guardian, and the heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees urged that the person/people responsible be prosecuted.

Fixbits:

Clapper says the leaks were "literally gut-wrenching" and cost the intelligence community dearly.

Paul's like-minded Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is also examining legal options on NSA surveillance.

McCain vs. Paul, Round 118.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) will support the Senate's immigration bill, helping it approach the 60 votes it would need to overcome a filibuster.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has had it with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and he says the IRS "case is solved." Cummings is also accusing Issa of selective leaking.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) officially launches his Senate special election campaign. And Rep. Frank Pallone is set to join Booker and Rep. Rush Holt in the Democratic primary; Pallone will make his announcement Monday.

Must-reads:

"Edward Snowden says motive behind leaks was to expose ‘surveillance state’" -- Barton Gellman and Jerry Markon, Washington Post

"Inside the mind of Samantha Power" -- James Mann, Washington Post

"How the U.S. Uses Technology to Mine More Data More Quickly" -- James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times

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Sean Sullivan · June 7, 2013