Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster protesting the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director and President Obama’s answers (or the lack thereof) on the use of drones within the United States is probably the most exciting thing to happen on C-SPAN in quite a while. But more than just political theater or conscientious protest, his marathon speech is a resounding step closer to a Rand Paul 2016 presidential campaign.
Although Paul has stated he won’t decide whether or not he will run until at least 2014, he definitely appears to be laying the groundwork for a presidential bid. He believes “the country is really ready for … the libertarian Republican narrative,” and seems to consider himself as a central figure in that narrative.
His filibuster has invigorated civil libertarians and many of his father’s supporters, who had previously expressed concern that Rand had conformed to the status quo and wouldn't live up to his father’s legacy. "I think this definitely scored him some points," said Gary Franchi, the former chair of the Revolution PAC. "I was getting a lot of messages from people saying 'Wow, Rand is stepping up.' People were really positive about it."
In the past few months, Paul has shored up his credentials as a fiscal conservative. He opposed the three-month extension of the debt ceiling, despite the approval of many conservative Republican congressmen and the conservative Club for Growth. And he was only one of five Republican senators to vote against the fiscal cliff deal on New Year’s Day.
While his father’s anti-interventionist views on foreign policy are well known, Rand Paul has taken a more moderate, and mainstream, approach. He has scaled back demands to cut off foreign aid to Israel, saying he wouldn't support any “immediate, dramatic, or draconian” cuts. He's also declared “that any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States.” Paul recently returned from a week-long trip to Israel, perhaps significant in light of attacks on President Obama during the campaign for not having made a presidential visit to the country.
On immigration, an issue seen by many Republicans as critical to their party’s future, Paul has pushed his own thoughts on reform. “I think people want a little different face on immigration,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “Frankly, they don’t want somebody who’s going to round people up in camps and send them back to Mexico.” Paul has contrasted his immigration approach with that of Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican currently heading up the bipartisan push for reform and a likely 2016 presidential contender.
Indeed, Paul has been making a habit of positioning himself against his possible opponents. He further highlighted his differences with Rubio following the State of the Union, by opting to deliver the Tea Party’s response while Rubio offered the official Republican rebuttal. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, another 2016 possibility, found himself the target of Sen. Paul’s ire following Hurricane Sandy. "I think criticizing the 2nd Amendment movement and the over-the-top 'give me my money' stuff, 'I want all 60 billion now or I’ll throw a tantrum,' I don’t think that’s going to play well in the Republican primary,” Paul said.
Not even possible Democratic candidates are safe, as Hilary Clinton found in a Senate hearing on Benghazi when Paul told her that, if he were president, she would have been fired.
Although Senator Paul hasn’t made a definite move one way or the other, circumstantial evidence points strongly towards a Rand Paul campaign. It wouldn’t take much to convert his Senate campaign website If so, Paul faces an uphill battle. Figures from Public Policy Polling show him coming in sixth place, behind Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and even Mike Huckabee. Of course, such polls don’t mean much this far ahead, so it’s a very real possibility that, in the words of Charles Krauthammer, “This will be a moment that people will say has launched him as a national figure.”