The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Rand Paul’s second filibuster fell flat

Paul, after his 2013 filibuster. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

When Rand Paul stood up to oppose the nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA in early 2013, the freshman senator accomplished a number of things at once. He reinforced his civil libertarian credentials, albeit in part because the public absorbed less of the nuance of his primary point (drone strikes against Americans in America should be prohibited) than the overall theme of government overreach. He got a response from the administration on his main question, albeit a terse one. And -- cynics might say most importantly -- he greatly increased his political profile.

His second bite at the apple was less satisfying. Paul's 11-hour speech on Wednesday in objection to the Patriot Act didn't seem to have the same resonance. The first time around, Twitter (the company) trumpeted that more than a million tweets about the filibuster -- many tagged with the aspirational hashtag #standwithrand -- were sent that day. This time, data from the Twitter analytics tool Topsy suggests a much more humble response on the Internet's social comments system, perhaps as few as 100,000 tweets in total.

A search at the news index Nexis shows that Paul was mentioned in 778 English-language news articles the day of and after his filibuster. This time around, so far, he's garnered 288 -- but the day is admittedly still young. (And with this one, it jumps to at least 289.) (Update: The total through the end of Thursday was 557, a drop of 28 percent over 2013.)

Paul's speech this week was not uninterrupted. Colleagues came to the floor to "ask him questions," filibuster code for "ramble for a while so the speaker can catch his breath." Several Democrats, including Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), jumped in to ask questions, making it a more bipartisan affair than the last time around. You can expect that point to be raised at some point during the campaign, "Paul worked across the aisle to etc. etc."

That might be the best thing he gets out of this. Bloomberg's Dave Weigel taped a weary-seeming group of supporters outside the Capitol, their pre-printed, uniform signs suggesting that it was hardly a spontaneous surge from inspired loyalists. (See below.) Paul may have changed a few minds and won a few voters, but he also got another cap-feather to show off in New Hampshire and Iowa. He's not the new-guy outsider from Kentucky hand-sewing the banner of liberty any more. He's a presidential contender, and that's never going to be as exciting.