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Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. is greeted by Iowa Republicans before speaking at a gathering for local candidates.
Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Neibergall
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. is greeted by Iowa Republicans before speaking at a gathering for local candidates.

The campaign pros and cons of Rand Paul’s libertarian legacy

Campaign 2016

This article is the sixth in a series called White House Wednesday, by the staff of The World and Everything in It, looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Vice President Joe Biden, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Congressman Paul Ryan, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gained notoriety last year for holding an old-fashioned, all-night filibuster to call attention to the White House’s drone policy. With the help of a few fellow GOP senators, Paul stood on the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours.

“I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurman’s record. But I’ve discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I’m going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here,” he said to laughter from his colleagues.

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The marathon performance was a defining moment for the first-term lawmaker, who has brought a libertarian flair to the Senate. He also spoke out forcefully against government surveillance in the wake of the National Security Agency’s snooping scandal. Paul filed a class-action lawsuit in February claiming the cellphone data collection was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.

“The Fourth Amendment’s equally as important as the Second Amendment, and conservatives cannot forget this,” Paul said later that month at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Paul’s libertarian bent runs in the family. His father, former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, was the face of the libertarian wing of the GOP until he retired last year.

Just like his dad, Rand Paul practiced medicine before heading to Washington. He was an ophthalmologist for more than two decades. Last week, NBC News followed Paul to Guatemala on a medical mission trip to perform eye surgery. In an interview with the network, Paul did something unusual for a Republican: He blasted a prominent Democrat for being overly forceful on national defense, calling former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a war-hawk.

“There’s going to be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, ‘You know what? We are tired of war. We’re worried Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle-Eastern war because she’s so gung-ho,’” Paul said. 

He also spoke out on the situation in Ferguson, Mo., following the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man. Paul, who is among the critics of the heavily armed response to violent protesters, and said it’s time to “demilitarize the police.”

Paul has been less coy than others about his political aspirations. Where other potential candidates, when asked about the presidential race, said they were interested in focusing more on their current jobs, Paul said, yes, he was thinking about running for president. 

As a presidential candidate, he might be able to bring more independent and Democratic voters into the GOP column. His views on national defense and his passion for Fourth Amendment issues set him apart. 

“He’s reaching out to non-traditional communities. He’s, I think, in many ways the most fascinating potential Republican,” said Debra Saunders, a conservative columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

While those differences could be a strength for Paul in a general election, they could hurt him in the primaries. His GOP opponents might use that “war-hawk” comment to say, hey, here’s a guy who’s left of the Democratic frontrunner on defense. Paul is at odds with many Republicans on other foreign-policy matters as well. He introduced a bill that would place conditions on billions of dollars in foreign aid the United States gives away each year. WORLD News Group has spoken with Paul about countries that persecute Christians and other religious minorities.  

I don’t think these countries should get American dollars,” Paul said. “People say that foreign aid, American foreign aid is supposed to project American power, but you’re not projecting anything but weakness if you give it to people who simply abuse their population.”

If Paul is too far outside the Republican mainstream to win a presidential nomination, he could wind up being a top candidate for vice president.

“I think that he would be a real get for whoever the nominee is,” Saunders said. “There are so many areas where he attracts non-traditional Republican voters that I see him on the ticket.”

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