Paul is aggressively trying to forge at least a cordial relationship with GOP establishment interests that have been suspicious of him — sometimes even outright hostile — in the past.
“He is a work in progress,” said one well-known Republican who recently met with Paul and spoke on the condition of anonymity, sensitive to the fact that public knowledge of their cordiality wouldn’t benefit either of them.
Part of his new relevance comes from the sudden prominence of a set of issues on which Paul has been a somewhat lonely voice in the Republican Party.
There is fresh attention to privacy, amid revelations about the government’s aggressive surveillance programs; renewed mistrust of the Internal Revenue Service, in the wake of its admissions of improperly targeting conservative groups for scrutiny; and heightened anxiety about foreign entanglement, as the prospect of deeper U.S. military involvement in Syria looms.
Meanwhile, Paul is involving himself more deeply in other questions where he has not been a leading player in the past.
On immigration, for instance, he has introduced a series of amendments to increase congressional oversight of border security and narrowly define the conditions under which those who are in this country illegally can get in line to become citizens.
“I am the conduit between conservatives in the House who don’t want [a broad bill] and more moderate people in the Senate who do want these things,” Paul said recently on “Fox News Sunday.” “I’m really trying to make immigration work. But they’re going to have to come to me, and they’re going have to work with me to make the bill stronger if they want me to vote for it.”
What most explains the new seriousness with which Paul is being regarded, however, is the quest for identity inside the battered Republican Party.
In an era of government expansion and mounting debt, the GOP is undergoing something of an evolution in its attitude toward the libertarian philosophy of Paul and his father, former congressman and presidential contender Ron Paul (R-Tex.).
“Most people like me — Republican, conservative — have a libertarian streak in them,” said Vin Weber, a lobbyist, ex-congressman and pillar of the party establishment in Washington. “Whereas 20 or 30 years ago, Republicans would say the real world prevents them from acting on their libertarian instincts, today the real world is heightening their libertarian instincts.”
Others say that the younger Paul, 50, has helped bring about more acceptance of libertarianism by offering a softer-edged ideology than his father’s.
“I would define Ron Paul as a hyper-libertarian,” said David Lane, a Christian conservative activist who organized a seven-day trip to Israel for Paul and a group of evangelical pastors in January. “I think [Rand Paul] is closer to where I am philosophically than he is to where his dad is.”