Rand Paul 'most intriguing man' in the GOP. Really?

Among the crowd of Republicans angling for the 2016 presidential nomination, Sen. Rand Paul stands out. Like his father Ron Paul, he may not succeed. But for now he's getting the most attention.

Ben Margot/AP
US Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky speaks at the Berkeley Forum, March 19 in Berkeley, Calif.

Is Rand Paul really “the most intriguing man in today’s Republican Party?”

That’s the assertion Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus made the other day, going beyond that to declare the US Senator from Kentucky “for Democrats, perhaps the most frightening” potential presidential candidate in 2016.

That election is light years away in political time, of course. Sen. Paul could trip over something, like the evidence of sloppy plagiarism in his past speeches and writings he was forced to acknowledge last year.

But really, compared with the other Republicans mentioned these days – Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, etc. (plus such 2012 also-rans as Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, both sniffing the presidential winds again) – he’s positively sparkly.

Paul’s attraction is two-fold.

He’s with most Americans aghast at government domestic spying and resistant of anything that suggests even the possibility of costly adventures abroad. The “war on terror” waged from 9/11 through the 2000’s brought both of those trends, and Paul’s thinking is very much in line with that – and would be, one senses, even if it didn't comprise popular thought as shown in the polls.

Also, his persona and demeanor doesn't say “conservative Republican” – the jeans, mussy hair, and what Marcus observed was a “laconic delivery and soft bluegrass accent that lent a certain stoner quality to his speech” – which is why (along with his message) he did well at the University of California at Berkeley the other day.

“He does not look like, act like, or talk like a conventional politician," Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, told This Week magazine. “Voters are extremely unhappy with the political system, and Paul's awkward sincerity status clearly taps into the disillusionment.” 

Even those who may oppose him on issues give him grudging praise on performance.

Parsing Paul’s appearance at Berkeley, Huffington Post writer Peter Watts concludes that it amounted to “a masterful assessment of the audience, and a message fine-tuned to their viewpoint.”

Like his father before him – US Rep. Ron Paul, an icon of libertarian thought within the GOP who ran for president three times – Rand Paul doesn't hold back when he sees the need to criticize his own party.

Speaking to the county Republican organization in Houston last month, he warned that Texas – Texas! – "will be a Democratic state within 10 years if you don't change."

“We have to welcome people of all races. We need to welcome people of all classes,” he said. “We need to have people with ties and without ties, with tattoos and without tattoos; with earrings, without earrings.... We need a more diverse party. We need a party that looks like America.”

More to the point, Paul said, that means attracting more Hispanics, who make up nearly 40 percent of voters in the Lone Star state.

Since then, Paul has won two presidential straw poll votes: at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire a week ago. It was Paul’s second win in a row at CPAC, where he raked in 31 percent of the vote and nobody else got more than 11 percent.

Rand Paul wins at CPAC for essentially the same reason his father did in 2010 and 2011: He has an enthusiastic following of young libertarian conservatives. Forty-six percent of the 2,459 people who participated in the straw poll were ages 18 to 25, and 42 percent were students.

But Sen. Paul needs to get beyond his father’s legacy if he is to succeed. Ron Paul did better than many of his party rivals in GOP primaries and caucuses, but never enough to win the love of establishment Republicans.

Paul says he’s “pretty much quit answering” questions about his father’s positions.

“I’ve been in the Senate three years, and I have created a record of myself,” he told the Daily Caller.

Referencing George W. Bush’s campaign for president in 2000 Paul said: “Did he get tons of questions about his dad? I don’t know that he did, to tell you the truth.”

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