Outsider now faces working from the inside
IN BOWLING GREEN, KY. Rand Paul - Kentucky's newest senator and the face of 2010's promise that there can be government by people who don't trust government - said he had a message.
"I'm going to ask [the Senate] to deliberate upon this," Paul said Tuesday night, in front of a cheering crowd at the convention center here. "The American people are unhappy with what's going on in Washington. . . . And tonight, there's been a tea party tidal wave."
In the hours since his election, Paul has repeated his campaign's ambitious message: He intends to shrink government from the inside, and take on both parties if necessary.
"Both sides, Republicans and Democrats, have proven themselves untrustworthy" on budget matters, he told NBC's "Today Show" Wednesday morning.
But talking about a Capitol Hill insurgency is easier than creating one. The first warning of that came even before Paul took the stage at his victory party.
And it was delivered, oddly enough, by his father.
"What are you going to compromise on?" Ron Paul (R-Tex.), the famously libertarian congressman, asked the crowd. He appeared on giant video screens, addressing the party via video link.
The elder Paul was wondering aloud whether newly elected limited-government advocates would really stick to their guns in Washington. What if, he asked the crowd, others in Washington wanted to increase government by more than 50 percent?
"If you agree to increase government by 50 percent [instead], that's no compromise. That's a sellout!" the elder Paul said.
To deliver on his promises, political experts say, the younger Paul must do something his father never could: assemble enough supporters to pass laws radically reshaping the government and its budget.
And Paul will have to do that without his father's political experience: Rand Paul is an ophthalmologist who has never held public office.
He could also have trouble within his own party. The other senator from Kentucky, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported another candidate in the Republican primary and did not appear at Paul's victory party Tuesday.
If the younger Paul can't rally others to his ideas, he risks falling into a far less influential role: that of principled irritant. In the House, it's a role his father occupies, and in the Senate it has been the role of the man Paul will replace, Republican Jim Bunning.
Rand Paul "doesn't think he's backed himself into any corner" by these circumstances," said Ernest Yanarella, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky. "I think he believes that he is part of the tide of history. Those thing have been whispered into his ears."
"Clearly, he's got to grow politically" to change Washington, Yanarella said. But, he said, "He's elected. He's got six years."