The Washington Post

Rand Paul is the most interesting man in the (political) world

The first six months of 2013 have made two things very clear: 1) Rand Paul is running for president and 2) Rand Paul is the most interesting politician in the country at the moment.

Senator Rand Paul continues to fascinate. AP photo.

From his filibuster over drones to his positioning on the immigration reform bill to his well-received trips to early presidential-voting states, Paul has shown a knack for simultaneously confounding expectations and drawing press attention. And, with the immigration fight in the Senate headed to a conclusion in the next few weeks and the debt ceiling battle looming this fall, Paul promises to be at the center of the political conversation going forward, too.

"Rand wants to accomplish things, not merely blow up the process in order to make news," said Billy Piper, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "That is refreshing and I think helps explain why so many on the right have been drawn to his leadership and style."

(Make sure to read Julia Ioffe's Rand profile in the new edition of the New Republic.)

Paul is, without question, a prime mover in two arenas right now: the Senate and the presidential race. (Of course, the Senate is also a proving ground/minefield for several members of the 2016 presidential field so the two arenas are deeply intertwined.)

Paul's filibuster of CIA director John Brennan's nomination earlier this year proves his power in both spaces. Not only did Paul demonstrate his status as the first among equals with the tea party-aligned crowd that includes the likes of Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah) but he also showed that he acts and other 2016ers react. That includes Marco Rubio (Fla.), the man most Republicans regard as the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, who went to the floor to support Paul's filibuster (and to make sure there wasn't much rhetorical space between he and the senator from Kentucky when it came to criticizing the Obama Administration).

"No 2016er has helped himself more than Rand Paul in last 8 months," said one senior Republican operative granted anonymity to speak candidly about the 2016 field.  "He has methodically put himself on track to being serious contender for GOP nomination in 2016. If the next 18 months are similar to the last couple, his presidential campaign will be much different than his father's."

What Republicans -- establishment-types and others -- find most intriguing about Paul is his potential to appeal in directions and demographics (civil libertarians, young people etc.) that get the party beyond the coalition built by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. (We've written lots of late on the growing libertarian strain in the country and Paul is the elected official most closely aligned with those views.)

Here's Paul describing his vision of a new Republican party in an interview last month with Spencer Ackerman: "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."

And here's a veteran Senate political operative on Paul's potential appeal: "Rand is the first real candidate in thirty years with the potential to alter Reagan's three-legged stool of defense hawks, fiscal conservatives, and social conservatives. He really has a modern appeal that has a much higher ceiling with today's electorate than anyone else in the party right now."

Whether Rand Paul winds up as a top-tier presidential candidate in 2016 -- we think he will be -- it's clear he is someone who has not only avoided being pigeonholed on any one issue but also leapt over the expectations many people had for him when he was first elected in 2010.

"He has continually been underestimated politically over the past four years and easily crossed the bar each time," said Jon Deuser, a longtime Republican consultant with Kentucky ties. "I think he fascinates us because he is so un-Washington and doesn't easily fit into the usual left-right cubby holes."

Here's where Paul fits at the moment: he is the most interesting person in the Republican political world.  And that's a good place to be.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is today. Get caught up on the race.
What to expect in the New Hampshire primary
The Post's Philip Bump says ...
Since he proclaimed that he'd win New Hampshire last summer, Bernie Sanders has seen a swing of about 50 points in his direction. Impressive. But not as impressive as the guy on the other side of the political aisle. Donald Trump has led the Republican field in New Hampshire for almost 200 days, and has held a lead in 51 straight live-caller polls -- every poll stretching back to last July.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the state.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont.
56% 41%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.