The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rand Paul’s heart isn’t even in ‘filibustering’ anymore, it seems

Rand Paul. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

For months now, Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign has been struggling.

He's tried breaking out chain saws and rubbing shoulders with Colorado's pot industry. But one of the Kentucky senator's time-honored — and most successful — attention-grabbers has been the filibuster. That's because Paul is really good at talking dramatically — for a long time.

He's in the record books for his 2013 filibuster of the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan. Paul spoke for 12 hours and 52 minutes against President Obama's drone policy, making it the ninth-longest speech in Senate history. The anti-drone filibuster helped make him a national name. He raised a lot of money off it and built a solid launching pad for his eventual presidential bid.

Having launched said bid this April, in May Paul stole the spotlight again when he successfully delayed a renewal of the National Security Agency's spying program by opposing it on the Senate floor for 10 and a half hours.

Flash forward to this fall, when Paul's campaign has almost entirely dropped off the radar of Republican voters, notes The Fix's own Chris Cillizza.

And enter Congress's budget deal, a parting gift this week from former speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to his successor, newly minted Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), and the ire of many conservatives like Paul. The perfectly timed budget deal also could have been, it would seem, a gift to Paul's presidential hopes.

Filibustering the deal was Paul's ace card in Wednesday's GOP debate in Boulder, Colo. Paul talked it up beforehand and mentioned it in his opening and closing speeches. And theoretically, being the face of resistance to the bipartisan deal (with more Democratic support than Republican) was a good political idea.

"I'm going to filibuster, as soon as I get done with this presidential debate thing," he told students in Colorado, according to Politico.

When Paul did get to Washington, he marched onto the floor at 2:46 p.m. Thursday to "rise in opposition to raising the debt ceiling."

He finished talking 19 minutes later.

Parliamentary geeks will point out that, according to Senate rules, to successfully block passage of a bill by talking, Paul would have had to start his filibuster on Wednesday night. His Kentucky colleague, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), effectively scheduled things so Wednesday night's debate prevented Paul from successfully halting the bill. So what he was doing wasn't technically a filibuster and was doomed from the start.

That's fine. But Paul's campaign made sure to promote this as a typical #StandWithRand filibuster. Except for the, you know, actual talking part. It seems that in their version, they were hoping Paul's stirring 19-minute speech would convince 40 other senators to join him and vote "no" on the deal.

They didn't. The budget passed in the wee hours Friday morning, 64-35. Paul could have continued talking, but he didn't.

The only thing Paul's much-promoted filibuster successfully accomplished was drawing out the Senate clock and forcing a rare series of votes at 1 a.m., making for a lot of tired senators Friday.

And perhaps Paul is tired as well. After nearly seven months of lagging in the polls and failing to get any kind of grip in a Republican primary in which his noninterventionist views are less and less attractive, Paul is grasping at straws.

This is really the second sign in as many weeks that Paul isn't exactly raring to go every day on the campaign trail. He recently livestreamed his floundering presidential campaign for a day, and as The Fix's Philip Bump noted, snapped at a question about whether he's still running for president:

"I don't know, I wouldn't be doing this dumbass livestreaming if I weren't. Yes, I still am running for president. Get over it."

Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly said he wasn't going to run for president if his whole heart wasn't in it. Judging by Paul's latest performance on the Senate floor, we're wondering if he should be asking himself the same thing.