Mention Rand Paul's likely 2016 presidential candidacy in political circles -- Republican and Democratic -- and you are as likely to be greeted with an eye roll as a nod of the head.
The Kentucky Senator, the eldest son of former House member and three time presidential candidate Ron Paul, is still regarded as a sort of amusing sideshow by many "serious" political practitioners. The prevailing sentiment is that Paul the younger is a chip off the old block, someone with views -- particularly on foreign policy and some social issues -- that are simply too far outside of the current mainstream of Republican thought to make him a viable candidate for president.
We've long believed that Republicans (and even some Democrats) who would dismiss Paul as simply a clone of his father -- both in terms of his policies and his political skills -- are badly misjudging him and his potential. The latest evidence of that reality comes via the Lexington Herald-Leader's Sam Youngman. Youngman writes:
At an Atlanta fundraiser Monday, both old-guard Republicans and a new generation of conservative political givers raised $150,000 for Paul's Senate re-election committee and gave credence to the argument that establishment Republican fundraisers are looking closely at Paul's presidential prospects.
The outlines of what a Paul for President finance committee might look like met with Kentucky's junior senator. Among the 35 investors in attendance was Jack Oliver, who ran George W. Bush's fundraising operations in 2000 and 2004.
Oliver, the story makes clear, is not endorsing anyone in the race until former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush makes up his mind about running. But, the very fact that the man who ran the finance organizations for both of George W. Bush's presidential campaigns was kicking Rand Paul's tires is telling.
Paul is a much cagier political operator than his father ever was. Since the end of the 2012 election, he has been quietly courting major players in the Republican donor world. There's a dual goal here. Paul undoubtedly hopes that some of these whales -- the major donors and bundlers of campaign cash -- sign on with him. But, even if they don't, he wants to make clear to them -- as well as to the broader Republican establishment -- that he is a) not his father and b) not scary. Paul knows he won't ever be the "establishment" candidate (that will be either Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal or Marco Rubio) but he also knows that there is a big difference between the establishment being vehemently opposed to him as the nominee and being neutral about that prospect. Paul is working to allay fears from the establishment so that in the event he is the pick, there won't be any problem in uniting the party behind his candidacy.
It's a savvy move and reflective of Paul's keen understanding of his own weaknesses and his commitment to trying to address and mitigate -- if not solve -- them. That is a remarkably underrated trait in a candidate for any office but especially for president. Knowing where you are weak is far more important than knowing where you are strong. Paul understands that. And that's (yet another) reason that the GOP political establishment should take him (more) seriously.