Rand Paul's Presidential Campaign: I'm Different, Not Weird
The Kentucky senator will insist he is a new kind of candidate when he officially launches his presidential campaign Tuesday afternoon—but his shift toward the center may cost him.
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky—I am on the 17th floor of the Galt House Hotel, where Rand Paul will, just a few hours from now on Tuesday afternoon, formally declare that he is running for president.
It’s an odd choice of venue for Paul on the most important day of his political career: a 3.9-star, 25-story, 1,300-room monstrosity planted next to the Ohio River. Yelp reviewers say it’s “Very, very average and dated,” and “There was a USED DIRTY UNDERSHIRT on the bed when we walked into the room.” The rate for a room this evening is $137. Liberty, of course, is priceless.
Tuesday’s announcement was a long time in the making.
The junior senator from Kentucky has been unsubtly campaigning for the Republican nomination for the better part of the last year. He has toured the country giving speeches, raising money, and waging war on Hillary Clinton and potential GOP rivals. He has, put simply, done everything short of say, “I’m running for president.”
Paul is, he would very much like you to know, different from other politicians. He is decidedly not slick: He speaks quietly and slowly, and often sounds as though he is in the middle of trying to figure out what he thinks of something while answering a question. He is not a natural when it comes to retail politics. At events, like a foreign policy speech in New York in the fall, he can be seen sitting, with his legs outstretched and his eyes glued to the table below him, half-heartedly picking at a piece of pie.
His voice seems to grow hoarse quickly from public speaking and making small talk with voters. All of which communicates the message that Paul really isn’t in this game because he’s good at bullshitting and backslapping.
Not that he’s been in the game for very long. Paul has only been in politics for five years. He entered the Senate in 2010 after getting elected on the strength of the support of his father, libertarian icon Ron Paul (who will, The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters reported, be in attendance Tuesday).
Before that, Rand Paul was an eye doctor who sometimes dabbled in anti-tax activism and volunteered on his dad’s campaigns.
But like many kids, as Rand has come into his own, things have gotten complicated with his dad.
Paul is now in the often uncomfortable position of having to appease his father’s libertarian-leaning supporters while moving enough toward the center not to scare off Republican primary voters.
It’s a delicate dance, and he has already stumbled while trying to navigate on issues of foreign policy, specifically how to address the rise of ISIS (bomb them in Iraq and Syria, he decided, but formally declare war).
But Paul’s subtle shift toward a more hawkish foreign policy has not endeared him to authentic interventionists, who regard him as an isolationist nut like his father. They oppose him so fervently that, Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin reported Monday, one group—the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America—is launching a million-dollar ad campaign against him on Tuesday.
But that’s an issue for a different day.
On Monday, Paul was sitting in an SUV with his family, taking the two-hour, 116-mile drive from his hometown of Bowling Green to the Galt House.
His staff, meanwhile, was roaming the halls of the Galt House. There was Doug Stafford, Paul’s main political adviser, who arrived here on Easter with his family. Holding an iced coffee on the third floor was Elise Jordan, a former speechwriter for Condoleezza Rice who, for the last few months, has served as an informal communications and foreign policy adviser for Paul and will be given a prominent communications position on the campaign.
Once Paul arrived here in Louisville, he was to attend dinner and a party in his honor and finally, end the night at Patrick O’Shea’s, an Irish pub a short walk from the hotel, where he planned to watch the NCAA championship game with the rest of his staff and members of the media.
An estimated 1,000 people are expected to show up to the Galt House ballroom to hear Paul’s speech on Tuesday. Paul will, a source with knowledge of the event told me, be introduced first by a video highlighting his record as an ophthalmologist, then by a Kentucky doctor, and finally by his wife, Kelley Paul.
Paul will walk out onstage to a song he has chosen from a list of about 10 rock songs by artists like Metallica and AC/DC (Paul’s campaign has a deal with ASCAP and BMI.)
The source told me Paul will touch on all the obvious notes: debt (bad), tax cuts (good), peace through strength (also good), standing up to terrorists (great), nation building (bad). The source said the speech will focus on the big picture, and Paul will not make any specific policy proposals.
In an effort to hype Tuesday’s event, Paul released a 2:43 video collage, titled “Defeat the Washington machine/Unleash American Dream,” on Sunday evening, consisting mostly of cable pundits talking about how “interesting” he is, set to vaguely movie trailer-reminiscent rock music—a preview, of sorts, of what fans can expect Tuesday.
“It’s time for a new way,” he says in the clip. “ A new set of ideas. A new leader, one you can trust. One who works for you and, above all, it’s time for a new president.”