Rand Paul vs. GOP establishment

Potential 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul is in the Northeast, meeting with Republican operatives and fund-raisers. Conservatives are wary of some of his recent comments.

Stephan Savoia/AP
Sen. Rand Paul responds to a question at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, Friday in Cambridge, Mass.during a Northeast tour that began in Boston.

Perhaps it’s genetic, but US Sen. Rand Paul seems to have the same effect on more traditional Republicans as his father – former US Rep. Ron Paul – did.

Rep. Peter King (R) of New York says Sen. Paul – who’s been making clear moves toward a presidential run in 2016 – would be “disastrous” as president.

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona included the younger Paul among Republican “wacko birds” filibustering the appointment of John Brennan to head the CIA. (McCain later apologized for the comment, which also had been aimed at Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Justin Amash.)

Rand Paul consistently tops the list of possible GOP presidential candidates in 2016, including a Quinnipiac University poll in Colorado this week in which he beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton 48-43 percent.

The poll in Colorado might also shed some light on where Paul could outflank his GOP counterparts – among young voters, according to Politico.com.

While Clinton leads Jeb Bush by 21 points and Mike Huckabee by 11 points among 18-to 29-year-olds, Paul matched the former secretary of state in the age group, with both scoring 43 percent, Politico reports. Paul also had a strong edge against Clinton among respondents who identify as independent voters: 48 percent of independent voters favored Paul, while just 37 favored Clinton.

 But if he is to go farther than his father (whose runs for president were significant even though they failed), Paul will have to do more than attract a loyal, energetic following of young libertarians, plus those tea partyers who don’t mind his straying from conservative orthodoxy on some international and social issues.

Hence, his trip to New England this week.

"The Republican Party will adapt, evolve or die," Paul said Friday at Harvard University's Institute of Politics as he worked to build new alliances with mainstream Republicans in Boston.

Before the speech, Paul attended a private luncheon hosted by top advisers to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney's former national finance chairman Spencer Zwick arranged a private audience of just a dozen key members of Romney's inner circle.

"This was meant to be a real discussion with people that I view can be very helpful," Mr. Zwick told The Associated Press, adding that Paul "was very well received" during an hour-and-a-half discussion about policy and politics.

On Saturday, Paul headed to Maine, where in 2012 there was a major kerfuffle between Ron Paul delegates and those backing Romney – eventually sorted out when the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to replace half of Maine's delegates for Paul with Romney supporters.

Over the past year, Paul has stood alongside (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus in New Hampshire and other states as the national party works to smooth over internal divisions and strengthen its appeal among young people and minorities.

Paul has helped fellow Republicans across the political spectrum raise money, as he was expected to do Saturday for Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate among a party that’s grown increasingly tea party-conservative.

Still, Paul has recently rankled conservatives with some of his comments.

Although Paul lines up with all Republicans in extolling the virtues and record of GOP icon Ronald Reagan, Mother Jones documents Paul comparing Reagan unfavorably to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

"Why did the deficit rise [under Reagan]? Because spending rose more dramatically under Reagan than it did under Carter,” Paul told student Republicans at Western Kentucky University when he was running for the US Senate. “Well, you say, 'Reagan's a conservative, Carter's a liberal.' Not necessarily always what it seems."

In an interview this week with David Axelrod, former advisor to President Obama, Paul (in the eyes of many social conservative, at least) seemed to go wobbly on abortion.

While voicing his personal belief that abortion is wrong because life begins at conception, he said strongly divided opinion on the issue makes it politically impractical to push for a total ban on the procedure.

“I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle, and we are not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise,” Paul said.

That got the sharp attention of people like Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council.

"Maybe it was inarticulate, or maybe these are the senator's real feelings, but that last comment certainly set off alarm bells for social conservatives," Mr. Perkins wrote on the organization’s web site. "Obviously, no president has the power to unilaterally ban abortion, but he does have the power to make the issue a priority – something most Americans assumed Rand Paul would do."

Wrote Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor at The Federalist: “This might be political calculation, but considering he wants to be known for being principled as opposed to pandering, he needs to reconsider his statements.”

Also, Paul didn’t do himself much good when he voiced support for rancher Cliven Bundy, who refuses to pay grazing fees for the cattle he runs on US Bureau of Land Management land in Nevada.

Like some other Republicans and conservative commentators, Paul had to quickly disassociate himself from Mr. Bundy’s racist outburst.

“His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” Paul said in a statement.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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