At 8 A.M. on a Friday in late July, Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, stood before a predominantly African-American audience of about a hundred at an Urban League conference in Cincinnati. An ophthalmologist before he was a senator, Paul has spent much of his career in surgical scrubs, but he was dressed nattily, in a charcoal suit and a red rep tie. His typically unkempt curls, which give him the look of a philosophy student lost in thought, were restrained with the help of a hair product. His aides had been promoting the talk for weeks, as part of a yearlong effort to reintroduce himself to political constituencies—on both the left and the right—that may have reason to distrust him. In the next few months, he is planning to deliver a major speech on foreign policy; like race, it is an area in which Paul has encountered strident opposition.
Paul began with the story of Clyde Kennard, a black man in Mississippi who was jailed in 1960 on false charges after he tried to enroll at an all-white college. "Despite our progress," Paul said, "there are Clyde Kennards today who can't fully access the franchise because they're handicapped by either educational or judicial systems." He laid out a criminal-justice-reform package he has introduced in the Senate to end mandatory minimum-sentencing laws, expunge nonviolent felonies from criminals' records, reclassify some felonies as misdemeanors, and restore voting rights to citizens who had committed a nonviolent felony. Like Barack Obama, he vowed to free many people imprisoned for crack cocaine, and he announced a new proposal to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. He had even spoken with the President about it—not something about which a Republican would normally boast: "I talked to him last week and said, 'I will help in any way I can.' "
Like many Republicans speaking before a black audience, Paul quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., but he also invoked Malcolm X. He declared, "I support the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act." If enacted, Paul's agenda would arguably do more to address issues that are important to the black community than anything that other members of his party are currently proposing. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, a Democrat and one of only two African-Americans in the Senate, is co-sponsoring part of Paul's reform package, and Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, has joined Paul's bill to restore voting rights to felons. No Republican senator has endorsed any of the legislation. "As a Christian, I believe in redemption," Paul told the crowd. "And I believe in second chances."
In some respects, Paul is to Republicans in 2014 what Barack Obama was to Democrats in 2006: the Party's most prized fund-raiser and its most discussed senator, willing to express opinions unpopular within his party, and capable of energizing younger voters. The Republican National Committee, which in 2008 refused to allow his father, Ron Paul, to speak at its Convention, recently solicited donations by offering supporters a chance to have lunch with Rand Paul. The only potential obstacle to a Paul Presidential candidacy in 2016 is his wife, Kelley. Douglas Stafford, Paul's top political adviser, said, "Unless Kelley says no, he's running." Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, told me this summer, "He is objectively one of the three most likely people to get the nomination."
Yet, also like Obama at a similar stage in his career, Paul could be hobbled by past associations and statements, especially on race and foreign policy. He has questioned government attempts, including a core provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to address discrimination in the private sector. He has proposed dramatically slashing the Pentagon's budget and cancelling all foreign aid. Ron Paul ran for President as the nominee of the Libertarian Party in 1988 and as an isolationist Republican in the Presidential primaries of 2008 and 2012. Rand has followed his lead in opposing most U.S. military interventions of the past few decades, aside from the war in Afghanistan.
Many members of the Republican establishment see him as a dorm-room ideologue whose politics are indistinguishable from his father's. Earlier this year, Mark Salter, who helped run John McCain's 2008 Presidential campaign, wrote that Rand's "foreign policy views, steeped as they are in the crackpot theories that inform his father's worldview, are so ill-conceived that were he to win the nomination, Republican voters seriously concerned with national security would have no responsible recourse other than to vote for Hillary Clinton." Paul told me that he wasn't concerned by such attacks. "Most of the criticism has come from people who would have us involved in fifteen wars right now," he said. "The American people don't want that. They're closer to where I am."
After the Cincinnati speech, I drove with Paul across the Ohio River into northern Kentucky, where a series of political meetings were scheduled. Paul is prickly but also has a quick sense of humor. He seemed to relax as we traded stories about the indignities of air travel on our respective trips from Washington. "I got sort of accosted by a guy," he said. "The aisle people are allowed to stand in the aisle at the end of the flight, not the window people. So the guy behind me in the window gets out, pushes me across, you know, has a hundred-pound belly. When there's no space between people, the polite thing is not to push yourself in there. He pushes me forward and then leans on me the whole time while we're waiting the five minutes to get off the plane."
As I was waiting for Paul to finish a meeting, I told two of his aides about an e-mail that had been sent to reporters during his speech. It was from a public-relations firm working for Ron Paul, also a doctor, who had recently written a column for his Web site explaining why he thought Russia wasn't responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight No. 17, in Ukraine. "In the interview, Dr. Paul will defend his controversial comments on Putin and voice his support of non-interventionist foreign policy," the e-mail said. Even as Rand was working to rebrand himself, his father was unintentionally undercutting the effort. Rand's aides were caught off guard. "It's good to see that the old man is still out there speaking his mind," one said.
Paul's relationship with his father is a sensitive issue. A couple of weeks before his speech to the Urban League, Paul was sitting at a conference table in his Capitol Hill office suite complaining about his press coverage. He was agitated about a story in the Times, earlier this year, which traced his intellectual lineage by reporting on many of the fringe groups and individuals with which his father has been associated during his career, including the John Birch Society and various writers who "championed the Confederacy."
"I really was disappointed," Rand said, his voice rising. There was a quote "from some guy who I've never met saying something about how slaves should have been happy singing and dancing because they got good food or something. Like, O.K., so now I'm in the New York Times and you're associating me with some person who I don't know." He went on, "It's one thing to go back and interview my college professor or groups that I actually was with. But I was never associated with any of these people. Ever. Only through being related to my dad, who had association with them."
It would be impossible, however, to describe Rand Paul's politics without indicating his father's influence. Paul is sometimes portrayed as a political neophyte, a small-town doctor who won his Senate seat in 2010 when the Tea Party erupted in opposition to Obama's Presidency. But he grew up steeped in the libertarian political philosophy beloved by his father, and he worked as a strategist on Ron Paul's many political campaigns, watching as his father's ideas helped to shape the Republican Party and give rise to the Tea Party. Rand, though, also learned from his father's political rigidity. Ron Paul never was able to graduate from the lower chamber or to expand his appeal beyond hard-core supporters; Rand won a statewide election on his first try. As a member of the House, Ron voted as an ideological purist, opposing most spending bills and nearly any foreign intervention; Rand has shown a willingness to compromise. "Ron was always content to tell the truth as best he understood it, and he saw that as the point of his politics," Jesse Benton, a close friend and political adviser to both men, said. "Rand is the guy who is committed to winning."
When I called the Paul family home, in Lake Jackson, Texas, Rand's mother, Carol, cheerily answered. In an hour-long conversation, she explained that her husband didn't like doing interviews about Rand. "Everybody that calls him wants to argue about their differences," she said. "They don't really have differences. They might have fractional differences about how to do things, but the press always want to make it into some kind of story that isn't there."
As a boy, Randal Howard Paul, the middle child of five, didn't have his distinctive curls or his distinctive name. "His hair was as straight as could be and we never called him Rand," Carol said. "We always called him Randy."
The Paul family moved to Lake Jackson when Rand was five. He grew up untouched by the turbulent politics of the late sixties and early seventies. Ron Paul was a well-off doctor, and Rand lived in a four-bedroom house with central air-conditioning and a swimming pool. He played Pee Wee League baseball and went to Cub Scouts at the First United Methodist Church. The family had a farm nearby and a beach house fifteen minutes away, in Surfside, on the Gulf coast. Paul recalled his early childhood as carefree. "I rode my bike to school every day from age five to age fourteen," he told me. "It was a small town—you could go anywhere." He added, "You were completely independent."
This idyll was the result of New Deal-style central planning. In the nineteen-forties, Dow Chemical, with help from the federal government, created Lake Jackson to house employees of its nearby magnesium plant. Strict zoning regulations kept industry away, and the roads were laid out so that the most heavily trafficked highways bypassed the city, leaving quiet, tree-lined streets in the residential interior. Carol Paul described Lake Jackson as "a town of churches" where "everybody knew everyone else and everybody looked out for everybody else."
Ron Paul, for a time the only obstetrician in the county, was known as a community leader and an expert on women's health, although privately he was immersed in free-market economic philosophy and raised his children on the writings of Ayn Rand, Friedrich von Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises, who saw government-run monetary policy as the greatest threat to Western democracies. Mises argued that governments were incapable of managing money; central banks inevitably destroy a country's currency, create hyperinflation, and set society on the road to fascism. In keeping with his fervid anti-government stance, Ron Paul refused to accept Medicare or Medicaid from his patients.
It was Richard Nixon who unknowingly persuaded Ron Paul to enter politics. In 1971, the President fully uncoupled the dollar from the gold standard and attacked inflation with wage and price controls. Paul was aghast, and, in 1974, he ran for Congress. Rand, who was then eleven, became more involved in his dad's political career than any of his four siblings. "Everyone was interested, but Rand would take it a step forward," his mother said. Paul agreed: "I was probably more interested in going to the rallies, listening to speeches and the politics and the philosophy."
Over the next decade, Ron Paul campaigned for the House and then the Senate, while Rand finished high school and went to college. Running on the slogan "Freedom, Honesty, and Sound Money," Paul lost his 1974 House race but ran again in early 1976, in a special election, after the retirement of the incumbent who had defeated him. "I can see the whole system coming to a collapse in three or four years," he said during a speech in January of that year, echoing Mises's apocalyptic message that the financial system was on the edge of ruin. "No system has survived on only paper for currency."
Rand watched his father change from a conventional small-town physician into a political firebrand. Ron Paul tapped into the resentments and federal policies that were turning the South solidly Republican. In a speech in 1976, he claimed that big cities were afflicted by crime because they were "swarming with welfare," and actual "jobs wouldn't pay them"—recipients—"what sitting on their butts does." He criticized federal attempts to correct the history of racist housing polices through government programs. "Everyone should have the right to buy property wherever he wants to live," he said. "And he should have the right to sell it to anyone he chooses."
In Texas, Ronald Reagan's 1976 Presidential primary campaign ignited the political transformation of the state. Texas had an open primary system, and Reagan worked hard to woo Democrats disaffected with their party over such issues as race, crime, and welfare. As Gilbert Garcia notes in "Reagan's Comeback," his 2012 book about the 1976 state race, "The Texas primary was also the first demonstration of what came to be known as the Reagan Democrat phenomenon." But the first beneficiary of this change wasn't Reagan—it was Paul, whose special election occurred on April 3rd. Reagan's victory, on May 1st, was close enough for Paul to capitalize on the energy and organization of Reagan's campaign. Paul beat his opponent, Bob Gammage, by twelve points, and Reagan defeated Gerald Ford by thirty-three points. After losing Texas, the Ford campaign wrote a memo warning that "a small number of right-wing nuts" was on the verge of taking over the Party.
Ron Paul became the leader of Reagan's Texas delegation, and he drove his family in a camper from Lake Jackson to Kansas City, Missouri, for the 1976 Republican National Convention, the last seriously contested Convention in American politics. Rand saw in vivid relief the struggle between the Party's populist and élite factions, a split that he is now trying to navigate. "My dad was one of only four congressmen who supported Reagan," Rand told me. He said that at a meeting in the White House shortly after his father was elected Ron "was directly asked by Ford for his support and he had to tell him no." At the Convention, the Texans were relegated to a hotel twenty miles away. Inside the hall, thirteen-year-old Rand watched as Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, the embodiment of the old Republican establishment, picked up a floor sign and tried to hit one of Texas's Reagan delegates. The rowdy Texans sat at the rear of the hall, below the Ford family's private box. According to Garcia's book, they heckled the mild-mannered Fords, and, on the last night of the Convention, one of Ford's sons dumped garbage on the Texas delegates.
Rand Paul told me that one of the lessons of the 1976 Convention is that the current divisions in the Republican Party have been there all along: "There have always been more of a business class and more of a conservative class, more of a grassroots class and more of a moneyed class."
He enjoys discussing his father's role in Reagan's first Presidential campaign and his own youthful trip to Kansas City, because the tale places the Paul family at the birth of the modern conservative movement. Reagan narrowly lost the nomination, and Ron Paul lost his House seat in November. He contested the election, but the House of Representatives rejected his case, which in part rested on allegations that felons had voted illegally. The Paul family believed that the race had been stolen. But both defeats turned out to be temporary. Ron Paul won back the seat in 1978 and returned to the House, and Reagan was elected President two years later. Rand was less eager to discuss the events of the next decade, when his father's libertarianism and Reagan's conservatism gradually took divergent paths.
In 1981, Rand entered Baylor University, a Baptist school in Waco, four hours from home. He immediately set himself apart. He contributed regularly to the school newspaper, the Lariat, drawing on Ayn Rand, Hayek, and Mises's disciple Murray Rothbard. He studied biology (as his father had in college) and liked to challenge Waco's fundamentalists, some of whom criticized the school for teaching evolution. George Paul, the son of a prominent Texas political fund-raiser, was Rand's closest friend in college. George told me, "Many of the students had never left Texas and could be very limited in their outlooks." He said that on Sundays he and Rand often visited different churches in an attempt "to observe how people practice their spirituality," and frequently debated "individuals who very literally interpret the Bible, who question many scientific theories." He added, "We would start digging by asking very direct questions, and people's inability to answer them would fluster them and in some ways make it uncomfortable for them—and hopefully inspire one or two to think back on it later." He recalled that he and Rand would debate anti-abortion extremists calling for the death penalty for doctors who performed abortions. ("Senator Paul denies that he went church to church seeking out people to argue with on religious matters," Brian Darling, Paul's communications director, said.)
Rand's friendship with George Paul was itself a small act of rebellion. George and Rand, who were both on the Baylor swim team and often spent six hours a day in the pool, became so close that, shortly after they arrived at Baylor, George legally changed his name from George Paul Schauerte to George Schauerte Paul. George was known on campus for his ability to acquire things without paying for them. He explained to me that he had "a God-given talent for being able to find things on short notice when they're needed." He once procured tanks of nitrous oxide from a friend studying dentistry. "He called them pleasure units," Kristy Ditzler, who was on the swim team with Rand and George, said. She, Rand, and George got high on laughing gas. "We attached a scuba mask directly to it," George said. "We knew it was dangerous, but we also knew how to adjust the air mixture to keep it just right." ("College was a long time ago," Paul said in a statement. "The high jinks reported by others make my college experience sound way more adventuresome than it actually was.")
George, now a teacher and consultant living in Austria, drew Rand into a secret society at Baylor known as the NoZe Brotherhood, which had recently been banned from campus. The group was founded in the nineteen-twenties mostly to mock Baylor's clubs and fraternities and to satirize its earnest religiosity. In 1982, Baylor's president condemned the group for its "sacrilegious, vulgar, obscene, and sometimes tasteless crudities." For initiation, called "unrush," Rand was required to submit a satirical essay of "10,622 words or less." George said that Rand signed the document with the name of a nineteenth-century anarchist and abolitionist, Lysander Spooner, who later opposed the Civil War on the ground that states had the right to secede. Spooner has become a revered figure to modern libertarians, especially in the South, where some revisionist historians have embraced his antislavery and anti-Lincoln views.
The brothers liked Rand's essay, and he moved on to the next stage in the initiation, the Raz. According to George, the brothers put a bag over Rand's head and spirited him away to their "sanctum sanctorum," a garage behind the group's off-campus headquarters, known as Xanadu. It was decorated with items that George, whose secret name was KleptoNoZe, had stolen, including "a box full of human skulls" that he said he'd found in a science building and a jacket he'd taken from a police officer. Rand was placed in a claw-foot bathtub while the brothers gathered around him in absurdist costumes they called "undress," shone a bright light on his face, and tested his wits by shouting ridiculous questions. ("What effect did orthodontics have on nineteenth-century Romanticism?") Rand excelled at the Raz and advanced to a more serious interview—conducted under a highway bridge—before being confirmed for membership. The brothers gave him his secret name: SpoonNoZe.
Rand was a member of another group that attracted campus dissidents: the Young Conservatives of Texas. It was founded by Munisteri in 1980 as a more conservative breakaway organization from Young Americans for Freedom, which had been started by William F. Buckley in 1960. Munisteri told me that he and his colleagues didn't like taking orders from the national Y.A.F. leadership.
Rand, who arrived the year after the Y.C.T.'s founding, became a leader of the Baylor chapter, which spread the Paul family gospel. Ron Paul became an adviser to the group and spoke on campus several times. In November of 1981, during Rand's first semester, he and his father screened "The Incredible Bread Machine," an anti-government documentary with a counterculture sensibility. It opened with I.R.S. agents confiscating horses from a farmer, cops seizing land, and federal agents breaking into the wrong home during a drug raid. The following semester, the Y.C.T. sponsored a talk on Austrian economics. In the fall of 1982, it hosted Johnny Stewart, a conspiracy theorist who was obsessed with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberg Group, an international network of political and industry élites. The next semester, the Y.C.T. invited Kitty Werthmann to speak. An Austrian exile who warned that America was creeping toward Nazism, in 2010 she became a popular guest on Glenn Beck's television show.
Meanwhile, Rand had adopted his father's questioning of the government's efforts to alleviate discrimination. In March of 1982, he responded to a Lariat op-ed writer who favored "some form of government action" to insure that A. T. & T. didn't lose its proportion of female employees after the company's breakup. The editorial, Rand wrote, "unfortunately typifies the reasoning behind every piece of anti-discrimination legislation passed over the past few decades. The mentality behind such legislation ignores one of the basic, inalienable rights of man—the right to discriminate."
Rand had developed a signature style: he opened with a provocative statement to jar the casual reader, and then calmly laid out his argument. "Discrimination has become a dirty word in our society," he wrote. "However, Webster defines discrimination as 'the ability to perceive distinctions; perception; discernment.' Now then, don't we all discriminate? Don't we discriminate in the selection of friends, mates, employees, students? Discrimination thus implies the recognition of individual talents, the discernment of inequality between individuals." While "eliminating racial and sexual prejudice" had "noble aspiration," such laws "necessarily utilize the ignoble means of coercive force."
Rand made a similar case about the Equal Rights Amendment, which had already died. "All must agree that bigoted discrimination is detrimental to the peaceful interaction of different sexes and races in the marketplace," he wrote. "Should we enact laws that say 'Thou shall not be prejudiced in business transactions,' and then hope that the courts interpret such laws in a rational manner? Or should moral questions such as discrimination remain with the individual? Should we preach in order to bring about change, or should we compel?"
Around this time, Ron Paul was growing disillusioned with Reagan, who he believed had increased the size of government, meddled in the affairs of nations abroad, and was inattentive to civil liberties at home. The differences between Ron Paul's libertarianism and the Republican Party on all three issues continued to widen, and Paul sought a larger platform to make his case.
In 1984, Rand took a semester off to work on his father's primary campaign against Phil Gramm for the Republican nomination in the upcoming U.S. Senate race. Rand helped to secure the endorsement of the Young Conservatives of Texas, although the state party—and Ronald Reagan—rallied around Gramm. The race marked the ignominious end to Ron Paul's first stint in the House. "It was a time when Republicans were still on the upswing in Texas and didn't always win," Rand told me. "So they wanted the Republican who could win." Gramm beat Ron Paul by fifty-seven points.
Rand never graduated from Baylor, but he scored high enough on the MCATs that he was accepted at Duke Medical School, his father's alma mater. In 1984, Rand went to Durham to study ophthalmology and Ron returned to Lake Jackson. Three years later, Ron resigned from the Republican Party in an angry letter attacking Reagan, and he ran for President as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. The Times described Rand as his father's "aide-de-camp" in the campaign. It was Rand's eighth campaign in fourteen years.
After graduating from medical school, Rand moved to Atlanta for an internship. In 1989, at an oyster roast, he met Kelley Joanne Ashby, from Russellville, Kentucky. An English major at Rhodes College, in Tennessee, she was into acting and modern dance. "She wasn't interested in politics," Christie Ewing Rolon, one of her sorority sisters, said. At the party, Kelley and Rand talked about Dostoyevsky. A year later, at their wedding, a candlelit ceremony in her home town, Ron Paul was best man. After a honeymoon on St. Kitts, in the Caribbean, they moved back to North Carolina, where Rand finished his ophthalmology residency.
Not long after meeting Randy, Kelley told him that his name didn't seem appropriate for an adult, and she renamed him. Carol Paul told me, "When he and Kelley met, he was a big boy. He could be Rand."
In 1993, Rand and Kelley moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to be closer to her family. He joined the ophthalmology practice of John Downing and created Kentucky Taxpayers United. It was an antitax organization, modelled on the Young Conservatives of Texas, which rated legislators on their fealty to small government. He learned that the ratings business was an easy way to get his name into the press. "There's kind of a vacuum for it," he told me during an interview in Washington. "Whereas up here there's hundreds of groups that do ratings, and they're kind of passé. In state capitals, there aren't many people who do it."
Unlike his father, Paul gladly accepted Medicare and Medicaid, which eventually accounted for fifty-five per cent of his patients. In 1994, he and Kelley bought an acre and a half of land and built a house in a new gated community called Rivergreen. The Pauls liked the eighteen-acre man-made Sunfish Lake, which was stocked with bluegills, but Rand balked at the twenty-one pages of restrictions that Rivergreen placed on homeowners. Only brick, stone, or stucco houses with at least three thousand square feet of living space were allowed. Gravel driveways, clotheslines, and piles of firewood visible to neighbors were forbidden. Aboveground swimming pools were banned. If Paul wanted to change the style of his mailbox, he had to get approval from Rivergreen's three-member Architectural Committee. "He didn't much like that," Jim Skaggs, Rivergreen's developer, told me. "He said, 'I bought the property, it's my property!' " Paul eventually relented, and built a four-bedroom, red brick Colonial with an indoor swimming pool. The libertarian who a few years earlier had railed against suffocating conformity at Baylor had settled into a neighborhood where he wasn't allowed to choose the exterior of his own home.
Paul took no interest in the local party. "I held fund-raisers within four hundred feet of where he lived and he didn't attend," Skaggs, who is a prominent Republican fund-raiser in Kentucky, said. "He didn't attend our Lincoln Day Dinners and that kind of thing." Rand and Kelley, who had three boys between 1993 and 1999, privately agreed that he would wait to run for office until they were in their fifties. He used his antitax group as a platform to speak out about political issues, but he was working on the edges of conservative politics. John David Dyche, a Kentucky lawyer and longtime Republican commentator, told me, "He was regarded somewhat like his dad was: a smart guy but maybe a little flaky and a little too far over to the edge to really ever get anything done."
But the national mood was warming to the Paul family's politics. In 1978, Ron Paul's victory had been facilitated by a conservative backlash against the first two years of the Carter Administration. The anti-government voices were more muted during the subsequent Republican Presidencies, but gained volume again in 1993, after the election of Bill Clinton. The following year, Republicans won the Senate and, for the first time in four decades, took over the House. Ron Paul decided to run for Congress again, in 1996, telling a local paper, "My platform is not so strange anymore." Rand returned to Lake Jackson as his father's campaign strategist.
It was a good moment for Rand to take a break from practicing medicine. Downing and Paul disagreed about how their practice was run and decided to part ways. The biggest fight was over "some differences over charges and taxes," Downing told me. "He was a little bit more interested in avoiding taxes than I was. And I was afraid he was pushing things a little bit." He thought that Paul "was taking more deductions than was reasonable." Paul's spokesman said, "The Senator does not remember the dissolution of their partnership over a tax issue."
Rand Paul has the bedside manner of a surgeon. He is more comfortable attacking a cataract or reshaping the cornea during Lasik surgery than he is talking to voters. "He's not naturally gregarious," Al Cross, a longtime Kentucky political columnist, said. "He's not a natural politician." Paul is accommodating to reporters but wary of questions that seem like political traps. Yet at the mention of his father's victory in the 1996 House race he smiled and loosened up. Paul was thirty-three at the time. He liked the challenge of the ferocious primary against the incumbent, Greg Laughlin, a Democrat who had switched parties. The family once again took on the Republican establishment, which closed ranks around the party switcher. "He was extra motivated by the fact that the National Republican Congressional Committee was against his dad," Jesse Benton said. "It was just so outrageous that the N.R.C.C. was for this former Democrat."
Several high-profile Republicans arrived in South Texas to endorse Laughlin, trashing Ron Paul as a Libertarian Party extremist who hated Reagan and wanted to legalize drugs and prostitution. The two candidates also fought over Paul's call for a less muscular U.S. foreign policy, and Laughlin criticized his opposition to the Gulf War. Newt Gingrich, former President George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush—then the governor of Texas—and Karl Rove all campaigned against Rand's father. "Over a hundred and fifty Republican congressmen supported the other guy," Rand Paul told me. "Whenever they switch parties, they all make a deal: you have to support this guy for switching parties." He added, "It was kind of annoying at the time," since some of them were his father's friends.
Ron Paul's public comments and personal views were as radical as ever, but Rand's political team presented his father as a more mainstream conservative. "Ron Paul wants to expand the economy and promote job growth with across-the-board tax cuts," one ad said. Ron Paul defeated Laughlin in a primary runoff by eight points, humiliating the Republican establishment.
The Republican primary that year had tested Paul's ability to win a debate over foreign policy. But in the general election his Democratic opponent, Charles (Lefty) Morris, attacked him as a racist. For years, Paul had been selling newsletters—"The Ron Paul Survival Report," "The Ron Paul Political Report," "The Ron Paul Investment Letter"—that mixed Austrian economics and right-wing populism. The venture eventually earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. In May, 1996, Morris released copies of Paul newsletters from 1992 that were overtly racist. "We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men," one article said, but "it is hardly irrational. Black men commit murders, rapes, robberies, muggings and burglaries all out of proportion to their numbers." The article went on, "We don't think a child of thirteen should be held responsible as a man of twenty-three. That's true for most people, but black males age thirteen who have been raised on the streets and who have joined criminal gangs are as big, strong, tough, scary and culpable as any adult and should be treated as such."
In another commentary, he wrote that most black males in Washington, D.C., were "semi-criminal or entirely criminal," and that "only about five percent of blacks have sensible political opinions." At the time, Ron Paul did not dispute that he wrote the articles, though many years later he that insisted they were ghostwritten.
Ron Paul was effective at fund-raising, and his campaign raised more money than his opponent's. Rand organized a superior get-out-the-vote effort. "He had all these ideas and ways to do things better," Carol Paul said of her son's effort.
"Rand is actually amazingly politically savvy," Jesse Benton said. "He got a lot of credit from his dad for some of the strategy. He figured out early on how to use satellite mapping, how early versions of MapQuest could be used in 1996 to help block out neighborhoods in a really efficient way."
"We had it kind of down to a science," Rand said. "There are thirty of us in the family. And so we were a force to be reckoned with. We could come to a community and knock on every Republican door in a town of two thousand in an afternoon." Ron Paul won by three points. Rand had saved his father's political career. He returned to Kentucky and started to plot his own.
Late one afternoon in mid-July, Senator Paul was in the passenger seat of an aide's car making his way through the District's rush-hour traffic to a campaign event in Maryland. He was reflecting on the long series of events that had propelled him, in 2010, into his Kentucky senatorial seat. "In life, you can't really predict when things are going to occur," he said. "You can try to create an opportunity, but most of the time those fail."
In the years leading up to his election, Paul mostly failed at creating opportunities for himself. He was still using his antitax group to speak out about political issues, to little effect. "He put out stuff about legislators voting for bad spending bills, and we would write something about it from time to time, but he wasn't a political force," Al Cross said. Paul maintained a presence in the local paper as a letter writer and an occasional columnist. And for more than a decade, starting in early 1997, he was a frequent guest on "Kentucky Tonight," a political roundtable show on state public television. Much of his commentary dealt with Kentucky tax policy, but he sometimes weighed in on national issues, and revived his college-era editorial style.
In 2000, when a caller to "Kentucky Tonight" asked guests what they thought of a plan to legalize all drugs, release all nonviolent drug offenders, and use the savings to fix Social Security, Paul responded, "I would agree." When another caller complained that her anti-anxiety drugs were expensive and suggested that the government should reduce prices, Paul recommended that she look for another remedy, such as Benadryl. "If you're having trouble sleeping, that's a very cheap alternative to any of the prescription drugs that are out there," he told her.
His central philosophy seemed little changed from his father's. In May, 2002, Paul returned to a long-held view, one that is not shared by most Republican politicians: that government attempts to address discrimination are always wrong. His target was the Fair Housing Act, a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which bans discrimination in the sale or the rental of housing on the basis of race, color, nationality, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Among many other kinds of housing discrimination, the F.H.A. made it illegal to build segregated housing, a practice that was commonplace not all that long ago. In 1942, when Dow announced its plan to build Lake Jackson, an article noted that the company had selected "a special location for a negro residential area."
Paul, then thirty-nine, found the F.H.A. to be a monstrous infringement on liberty: "Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate." He went on to note that although it is "unenlightened and ill-informed to promote discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin," a free society "will abide unofficial, private discrimination—even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin."
Paul was beginning to think about running for political office. One of his last articles for the local paper consisted mainly of advice for Kentucky's embattled Republican governor at the time, Ernie Fletcher, who was also a physician, about how he could win reëlection in 2007. "What would I do?" Paul asked. "Get a vision. Make it simple. Repeat it over and over again. Make the Republican party, the Democrats, the press debate your vision."
Ultimately, Rand was saved from political obscurity by his father. In 2008, Ron Paul decided to run for President. The campaign raised an extraordinary thirty-five million dollars by cultivating a small but intensely committed following that later carried Rand Paul's message, too. At the beginning of 2008, Ron Paul was treated as he always had been by the Republican establishment: like a kook. When he argued that George W. Bush's militarized foreign policy was creating more terrorists, or insisted that the country was on the edge of an economic calamity, he was mocked by Republican opponents such as John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani.
Rand and Jesse Benton, who managed Ron's campaign, pushed to spend more of the enormous war chest on television ads to woo Republican voters outside Ron Paul's support base. "A lot of that advice went unheeded," Benton said. "Rand had so many different really good ideas on how to capitalize and leverage media in a way that we just didn't do." When the campaign was over, Barack Obama, an anti-Iraq War Democrat, had defeated the hawkish John McCain, and the economy was in the depths of a financial crisis, the kind of event that Paul had long said was imminent. Ron Paul seemed prescient, and Rand moved quickly to claim an inheritance. "Everything had to be perfect for me to win," he told me. "I had some notoriety, but not much. My dad had a lot."
An opening presented itself in the form of Kentucky's Republican senator Jim Bunning, who was then seventy-seven. Bunning was up for reëlection in 2010, but Senator Mitch McConnell, the dominant Republican in the state, was trying to force him into retirement. McConnell let it be known that Trey Grayson, the secretary of state, was his favored replacement. Grayson, the son of a banker and a former Democrat, was exactly the kind of establishment figure the Pauls enjoyed running against. But Rand told me, "Nobody predicted that I could win in the beginning. Myself included." Benton e-mailed Rand, "You can beat this guy!"
Paul was drawn to the idea of overcoming the Republicans who for thirty-four years had pilloried his father as an extremist. For eight years, the White House and the Party had been controlled by Bush and Rove, who, in 1996, tried to chase Ron Paul out of politics. The Kentucky Republican Party was dominated by former Democrats and country-club Republicans who had sided with Ford during the 1976 Convention fight. "After seeing how the establishment treated my father during his presidential campaign," he later wrote, "I had every reason to believe that the powers-that-be would do everything they could to keep another Paul away from the reins of government."
In taking on the Republican establishment, Rand won over his father's ardent supporters. "That network was absolutely crucial," Benton said. "It was a serendipitous moment. He was the right candidate with the right message at the right time with the right father." But it also meant that Rand had to court some of the offbeat opinion-makers in the insular world of Ron Paul. Rand conducted several interviews with the radio host Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who thinks that 9/11 was an inside job and shares Ron Paul's view that America is perpetually on the verge of economic collapse. During an appearance in August, 2009, Rand said, "We really don't have a lot of time." He worried that an economic collapse could lead to a situation similar to how "we got Hitler in Germany," and added, "If you get some kind of strong leader like that, then it's all over for the Republic." The Alex Jones appearances were hard to turn down: after the first one, Rand's campaign server crashed from the donor traffic.
Grayson recalled the primary as a series of blows from which he never recovered. The political terrain was shifting. As with Carter and Clinton, Obama saw his first year in office create a surge in anti-government sentiment on the right. That spring, Rand spoke at a boisterous Tea Party gathering in Bowling Green, and his anti-Bush and anti-Obama message was cheered. Even people who disagreed with Ron and Rand on many issues were coming around to the Paul philosophy. "I thought at the time that his father was kind of far out, but as I get older I think he's been more right than a lot of other politicians," John Downing said. He told me that as time passed he also realized that Rand was right about their tax dispute. "I think he was perfectly legal and I was paying Uncle Sam too much," he said. "I have wished since that I had been more open-minded."
On the day that Paul spoke in Bowling Green, Grayson tried to address a crowd at a Tea Party event two and a half hours north, in Louisville. "They wouldn't let me speak, because I was an officeholder," he said. He added that that's when he realized, "There might be something here."
Rand used Grayson's money and endorsements against him. When Grayson held a splashy fund-raiser attended by about a dozen Republican senators, many of whom had voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Rand and Benton dubbed it the Bailout Ball, and organized an online fund-raising event to counter it. "They actually raised more money off their Bailout Ball Money Bomb than we did at the actual Bailout Ball," Grayson said. "I locked up most of the big donors and most of the Republican volunteers, but Rand had his own source of volunteers, and Rand had his own source of money."
Grayson and his Republican allies belittled Rand's "strange ideas" and called him "too kooky for Kentucky." They hammered him for campaigning against Reagan's policies in 1988 and opposing Bush's war in Iraq. They said that he was soft on crime and soft on terrorism, and supported "all things Ron Paul."
Rand defeated Grayson, fifty-nine points to thirty-five. "He whupped me pretty much everywhere," Grayson said.
Kelley Paul plays a somewhat protective role in her husband's career. A few days after his primary victory, she gave him a copy of the Emily Dickinson poem "Fame Is a Bee":
Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.
She warned him about the heightened scrutiny that would accompany his burst of fame. One of Paul's former aides told me that Kelley is "politically savvy," but she also encourages his worst instincts. "Kelley is going to say what's on her mind," the former aide said. "She eggs him on when he gets attacked."
After he won, Paul agreed to an interview with Rachel Maddow, on MSNBC. Kelley told him to cancel it, but he didn't listen. Maddow focussed on Paul's views of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A few weeks earlier, during an interview with the liberal-leaning editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Paul had expressed ambivalence about whether the government should be allowed to police discrimination in the private sector. "Do you think that a private business has a right to say that 'we don't serve black people?' " Maddow asked. Paul believed that private entities did have the right to discriminate, a view he had articulated as recently as 2002. He tried to elevate the conversation to an abstract debate about private rights in a free society and his abhorrence of racism in general. But he made it clear that he still believed that the government should not be allowed to police racism in the private sector.
Paul devoted almost an entire chapter to the Maddow episode in his 2011 book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington." But, even then, he didn't modify his view. He said that the media were out to get him. "Besides the absurd charge that I was some sort of secret racist," he wrote, "another thing that bothered me about the controversy is it was a reminder of just how limited we are in our public discourse. As my dad often had to deal with in his 2008 presidential campaign, any outside-the-box or unconventional thinking is either dismissed or used to malign one's character."
He favorably quoted a columnist named Jack Hunter, who happened to be Paul's co-author, lamenting the fact that there weren't more "philosopher-statesmen." Hunter went to work for Paul in the Senate, but, in June of 2013, Paul was pressured to fire him when it became public that Hunter had previously been a masked pro-Confederate radio host known as the Southern Avenger.
As with so many aspects of his personal history, Paul approaches the subject of his intellectual influences as though he were defusing a bomb. In his book, he wrote about several libertarian writers he had turned to since high school: Ayn Rand ("one of the most influential critics of government intervention and champions of individual free will"), Hayek (" 'The Road to Serfdom' is a must-read for any serious conservative"), and the Mises disciple Murray Rothbard ("a great influence on my thinking"). In my conversation with him, he shrugged them off.
Ayn Rand was just "one of many authors I like," he said. "And it's, like, 'Oh, because I believe in Ayn Rand I must be an atheist, I must believe in everybody needs to be selfish all the time, and I must believe that Howard Roark is great and Ellsworth Toohey is evil,' but she's one of many authors I've read. I like Barbara Kingsolver, too."
Hayek? "I wouldn't say I'm like some great Hayek scholar."
Rothbard? "There are many people I'm sure who are more schooled."
After Rand defeated Grayson in the Senate primary, the appearances on Alex Jones's show stopped and the wooing of the establishment that he abhorred began. He had met with McConnell and convinced him that he would be a team player. John David Dyche, the Republican commentator, who has written a biography of McConnell, talked to him shortly after the meeting. "He realized that he was not his father's son in all respects, and that he was interested in winning and achieving things rather than just making philosophical points," Dyche told me. "McConnell quickly realized that this is somebody with whom political business can be done." But, Dyche said, "McConnell has moved more toward Paul than Paul has moved toward McConnell." Jesse Benton said, "They're not best friends, and neither is going to pretend that they're best friends. But they worked out a relationship that's good for Kentucky." (Last year, Benton became the manager of McConnell's 2014 reëlection campaign; he resigned earlier this year over allegations that Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential campaign had paid an Iowa state legislator to endorse Paul. Benton denied involvement with the incident.)
Paul must be aware that his past will attract minute scrutiny if he runs for President. Just as he was gliding to victory in the 2010 Senate race, an episode from his days in the NoZe Brotherhood threatened to upend his campaign. GQ.com posted a report in which an anonymous source said that Paul and another NoZe brother had taken her from her apartment, encouraged her to smoke pot, and asked her to pray to something called Aqua Buddha. The source for the story was Kristy Ditzler, Paul's friend from the Baylor swim team. His collaborator in the prank was George Paul. Ditzler and George Paul agreed to talk to me about the controversy.
Paul and George had driven to Ditzler's apartment and asked her to put a bandanna around her eyes. "They did pretend they were abducting me, but it wasn't a forced sort of thing," Ditzler said. They took her to another apartment and removed the blindfold. "It was weird, with all of these tents with bongs inside and piles of clothing. Completely bizarro." Ditzler said that George and Rand asked her to go into one of the tents and smoke pot, but when she declined they drove to a creek in Elm Mott, north of Waco, and told her to wade into the water and worship Aqua Buddha. "They never explained what was going on, but that's the way they were about everything—vague and mysterious."
George offered a slightly different version—they took her to a dark pub, where they had an easel set up and pretended to sketch a portrait of her while reading Kant—but he insisted that no drugs were involved, not even his nitrous pleasure units. He also said that the Aqua Buddha incident took place on another night, when he and Paul blindfolded Ditzler and several other members of their swim team by putting cotton in their goggles, and then loaded them into the back of a pickup and drove to the creek, where they were asked to "pay homage to the Aqua Buddha, and then we all went swimming." He explained that Aqua Buddha was an inside joke on the swim team. During practice, George, Rand, and others would descend to the bottom of the pool and strike a Buddha pose, creating an amusing sight for swimmers at the surface. "It broke the monotony and helped us get through the workout," he told me.
When the anonymous version of the story emerged, Paul quickly tracked down George. "I had just gotten off a sailboat and I saw a bunch of calls," George told me. "He said someone may try to contact me, and he said, 'Do you recall anything about that?' "
Rand's Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, and his allies alleged that Paul had kidnapped Ditzler, and they described the NoZe Brotherhood as an anti-Christian cult. But nobody else could find George, and Ditzler refused to discuss the event on the record, so the story faded away.
Ditzler, who is a Democrat, was appalled by how Rand's political opponents mischaracterized the GQ.com interview. "I would not use that as a specific reason not to vote for him," she told me, but she thought the incident raised a larger question, one that many others are now asking about the Senator. "The only reason I felt like speaking up was that I was a little bit irked by him making himself out to be all about God and country and all about conservative values, because he was clearly not promoting that when I knew him," Ditzler said. "I mean, we all change, we all have a past. If he's changed, why can't he just say that he's changed?"
In Louisville, people talk of the Ninth Street Divide. East of that boundary, the city is alive with boutique hotels, bourbon bars, and the region's financial center. West of Ninth Street, the city is largely blighted. St. Stephen Church, on Fifteenth Street, in West Louisville, is a sprawling complex of modern brick buildings and manicured lawns, an oasis surrounded by vacant lots and light industry. It has become one of the fastest-growing churches in America.
Kevin Cosby, a Baptist, is the church's pastor and the president of Simmons College, a historically black institution in Louisville that was founded in 1879. He and Paul first met in January, 2011, shortly after Paul was sworn in as a senator, at a Martin Luther King Day celebration at Simmons. They became friends, and Cosby invited him to speak to students at Simmons in 2013.
Cosby's relationship with Paul has caused some concern among his parishioners and Simmons students. "I have to keep telling them that just because Reagan engaged Gorbachev does not mean he endorsed Gorbachev, and just because Roosevelt engaged Stalin, and Nixon had his kitchen talk with Khrushchev, does not mean that engagement is endorsement," he said.
In Presidential elections, the Republican Party's share of the African-American vote has been declining, from fifteen per cent in 1976 to six per cent in 2012. Paul's outreach is no doubt partly influenced by his and his father's controversial record on civil rights, but he has chosen a different way to woo black leaders and black voters. Republicans have generally tried one of two approaches. One, best demonstrated by the former congressman and 1996 Vice-Presidential candidate Jack Kemp, is to campaign in black communities with a generic message of free-market conservatism and other traditional Republican values. The message has often helped such candidates get attention and praise from the media but few African-American votes. Today, a candidate associated with this strategy is Paul Ryan, whose anti-poverty agenda draws on the ideas pushed by Kemp, for whom he once worked. In the other approach, Republican candidates have aligned themselves with conservative black leaders.
Neither strategy has been successful. Cosby believes that both parties were mistaken when they stopped treating the African-American community as an interest group with a specific policy agenda. Cosby blamed Clinton and Obama for the shift, citing Tim Wise's argument, in his 2010 book, "Colorblind," that the past two Democratic Presidents have adopted a policy of "post-racial liberalism." Cosby said, "The position is, what is good for America is good for African-Americans." He described Obama as "a post-racial liberal. He's Michael Jordan. He transcends race. He's Tiger Woods. He's what Tim Wise calls 'the exceptional African American.' "
Cosby told Paul that Republicans needed to understand black frustrations with the Democratic Party. Although Obama's support is solid among African-Americans, Hillary Clinton might be vulnerable to a Republican attack. "Michelle Alexander, in her book 'The New Jim Crow,' says that no one helped build up the prison industrial complex any greater than Bill Clinton," Cosby told me. "Reagan started it, but Bill Clinton put it on steroids." He added, sarcastically, "And he's the first black President."
Cosby, who does not endorse candidates, explained all this to Paul, and told him that he needs to think of the black community in terms of a detailed list of concerns to be addressed, the same way that politicians approach the L.G.B.T. community or female voters. Most Republicans have been even less inclined than Democrats to talk about policy in racial terms, while simultaneously promoting some ideas, like voter-identification laws, that alienate the black community.
Paul has taken Cosby's advice, although his effort got off to an embarrassing start last year, when he spoke at Howard University and was greeted with mocking laughter after he asked black students if they knew that the N.A.A.C.P. had been founded by Republicans. Nonetheless, Cosby said, "He's one of the few persons that I see speaking to some specific issues that are not general issues, as relates to the black community." In mid-August, after police in riot gear and armored trucks confronted unarmed black protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, Rand wrote an article decrying the militarization of the police. "Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system," he said, "it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them."
In July, after he left a meeting of African-American leaders, Paul told me, "I believe strongly that we have created enormous social problems with government policy. They'll tell you the whole idea of how many people we're putting in jail is destroying communities. It's taking away the fathers. It's preventing their employment when they come back. It prevents contact with their kids. It's just one thing after another. It's all the overzealousness to incarcerate people for nonviolent felonies." He added, "I've always felt like the war on drugs was overly criminalized and used overly harsh penalties, but I never really spent enough time in the African-American community to know how devastating it is to their community."
I asked him what had changed. "I've always been of the same opinion," he said. "But I've been in some way made more aware that we can do something about it." He said that "The New Jim Crow" had greatly influenced him. "It is the biggest civil-rights problem of our era," Paul told me.
Cosby related a surprising conversation that he had with Paul not long ago at Simmons: "He said that if he could he would shut down a lot of these prisons, and he specifically said that the money saved from mass incarceration would be re-channelled toward job training. Now, I am one hundred per cent sure he said that to me." Cosby went on, "I was blown away, because I'm thinking, This doesn't sound like libertarianism to me. This sounds like big government. Libertarianism means redirecting money back to the taxpayers. If he made a statement like that publicly, and stood by it, I don't know where he will stand within the Republican Party and the libertarians, but that would shake things up in the black community." He repeated Paul's statement to me three times. "He said the thousands and thousands of African-Americans that have gone to jail because of mandatory sentencing should be released and the money saved should go for a job-training program. Whoa!"
Rand Paul has spent the past few months often clumsily trying to convince voters that his foreign policy differs from his father's. Rand is perhaps best known, thus far, for his nearly thirteen-hour filibuster last year to protest the Administration's use of drones—a tactic that further convinced Republican hawks that he doesn't share their assessment of the risks posed by terrorism. Over the summer, Paul was under constant attack from rivals, such as Governor Rick Perry, of Texas, who described him as "curiously blind" to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. As with the criticisms of his past statements on civil rights, Paul felt that he was the victim of a smear campaign. "Unfair criticism from people who have partisan goals," he told me.
Paul said of attacks like Perry's, "They just want to call me names. Calling me 'curiously blind' and 'an isolationist'—that's just name-calling." As the crises in Iraq and Syria escalated, Paul became bolder in his statements that the U.S. should stay out of the conflict. "The American people pretty much decided where they are," he told me in July. "They are weary of war." He won in 2010 despite Republican charges that he was an isolationist, and he came away convinced that the base of the Party has shifted toward him. "If you want to poll the issue of going to Syria, seventy per cent of the American public said no, over fifty per cent of Republicans. You want to poll the issue of sending troops back to Iraq, over fifty per cent of Republicans are opposed to that now."
Speaking in July, he explained why the United States should not intervene in Iraq and Syria. "You could probably write an essay of the hundred ironies of the Middle East in our policy right now," he said. "I mean, who's doing the most right now to help us combat ISIS? The Air Force of Syria. They're bombing ISIS. So who did the most to create a haven for ISIS? The United States—and Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, and Kuwait. By financing people to fight and try to degrade Syria."
He had recently listened to a speech by Secretary of State John Kerry: "He said, and he's said this many times, 'Our goal is not victory with Syria; our goal is to degrade their capacity such to get them to negotiate.' Well, what does that mean? Their capacity right now to what? To attack ISIS? So he's going to degrade their capacity to attack ISIS?
"When you have so many confusions, how can you ask an American G.I. to go fight and lose his life for something where we'd be fighting with the Iranians and the Syrians against ISIS, but in the neighboring country we would be fighting with many people who hate Israel, hate the United States, hate Christianity? Makes absolutely no sense." He added, "I think the American people are with me, not the Old Guard that wants to always fight." I asked him who he thought was a worse foreign-policy President, Barack Obama or George W. Bush. "I don't have an answer for that," he said.
A few weeks later, as ISIS's brutality dominated the news, Paul seemed to change his position dramatically. He said that as President he would "seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily." John McCain, one of Paul's longtime critics, told me in August, "I see him evolving with experience, with travel, with hearings on the Foreign Relations Committee. I see him having a better grasp of many of the challenges we face than when he first got here. That doesn't mean he is now a John McCain, but it certainly does mean that he has a greater appreciation and has been articulating that." He compared him with Ron Paul. "His father is a person who really believes that the United States should not be engaged in foreign events and foreign countries. I think that Rand Paul is seeing a very unsettled world, one in significant turmoil, and I see him understanding and articulating what in my view is a realistic view of the United States and the importance of its leadership and role in the world."
McCain cited as an example Paul's shift on aid to Israel between 2011 and today. "Look at the Rand Paul alternative budget," he said. "Have you heard of that? It cut aid to Israel; it cut defense in half." More recently, Paul has said that he would cut foreign aid to five billion dollars per year, with most of that reserved for the Jewish state. "He made a trip to Israel about a year or so ago, and he came back a little bit different," McCain said.
During the most intense phase of the recent war in Gaza, when even staunchly pro-Israel American commentators were decrying Israel's tactics, I asked Paul if he had any reservations about the offensive. "Every sovereign nation has a right to defend themselves, Israel included," he said. "It's not the job of American politicians to always have an opinion and to insert themselves into everybody's business." He added, "It's not the job of an American politician to say anything other than we support Israel as an ally, we support the right to self-defense." This contradicted Paul's position on Egypt, which is that the U.S. should withhold aid to the country unless it conforms to certain standards. I asked if our aid and arms to Israel were problematic. "I think I've answered the question pretty well," he said.
Jesse Benton told me that the foreign-policy differences between Rand and his father stem from Rand's facing the realities of the world. "If Ron were President, he would have had to govern like Rand," Benton said. "Ron is much more of a purist about non-intervention, and that's fine, but in many ways Ron's foreign policy can exist only in an academic sense. It's just not possible for the United States to be non-interventionist. It's not much of a difference on principle, but a much bigger difference in practice."
McCain told me that, if Rand Paul is the Republican nominee for President in 2016, he will support him. "I've seen him grow and I've seen him mature and I've seen him become more centrist. I know that if he were President or a nominee I could influence him, particularly some of his views and positions on national security. He trusts me particularly on the military side of things, so I could easily work with him. It wouldn't be a problem."
In mid-July, Senator Paul was on the phone making a deal. Paul, who was wearing two-tone Wayfarers and a navy shirt under a navy jacket with a stain on the sleeve, left his Senate office building while he negotiated with Scott Brown, a Republican running for the Senate from New Hampshire. Brown needed Paul's help, but Paul was hesitating. He walked across a Senate parking lot and listened to Brown make his pitch. Brown, who was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts in 2010, to finish the late Ted Kennedy's term, lost the seat in 2012 to Elizabeth Warren. A year later, he moved to New Hampshire to try his luck there.
Once a Tea Party bannerman, Brown was running a milquetoast primary campaign against several lesser known conservatives, including Jim Rubens, a libertarian-leaning Republican who is closer to Paul on civil liberties and foreign policy than Brown is. The Republican Liberty Caucus, a leading libertarian group that once featured Ron Paul as its honorary chairman and backed him for President in 2012, endorsed Rubens over Brown. "I'm a liberty-oriented Republican," Rubens told me recently. "Whenever someone asks me what senators I admire, I always cite Rand Paul."
Earlier this year, Rubens pulled Paul aside at an event in New Hampshire and asked for his endorsement. Paul declined, and Rubens told me that he assumed the decision was related to Paul's Presidential aspirations. Over the phone, Brown was asking Paul to commit to a political event for him in mid-September, the weekend after his race against Rubens would be decided.
Paul stepped into an aide's beat-up black Kia. Every day, he faced similar decisions between the ideological principles of the libertarian movement and the transactional politics required to get him closer to the White House. Ron Paul once wrote that he had adopted Mises's view that America had no statesmen because politicians voted according to the whims of pressure groups. Rand Paul seems to regard such shifts as inescapable. His political successes so far have all come at moments when he has relinquished his long-held views, most notably in his recent, unambiguous endorsement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his shift in foreign-policy positions to comport with those of Republican Party voters who see Israel as a key ally and ISIS as a serious threat.
But the contradictions have started to pile up. Last week, I talked to John McCain again, and he was in a less generous mood. In an interview with the Daily Beast on September 17th, Rand Paul, apparently referring to a widely discredited Internet conspiracy theory, said that McCain had met with ISIS. "They had a doctored picture of me with Baghdadi!" McCain said, speaking of the leader of ISIS: "It is disappointing that he would pick up and legitimatize what was clearly information that was being pushed by people who are enemies of the United States." McCain now dismissed Rand's hawkish rhetoric about ISIS: "He said we have to destroy ISIS, and yet he has not described a strategy in order to achieve that goal."
Kevin Cosby had hoped that Paul would use his Urban League appearance to publicly endorse a bold new job-training program for ex-felons that Paul had described to him privately, but it was absent from the speech. Other close friends of Paul warned that his political identity was becoming confusing. Steve Munisteri said that Paul should stop calling himself a libertarian. "I know he just means that he likes to protect individual freedoms, but that's not what it means down here," he said, referring to Texas. "They think it means you're going to legalize heroin." He said he no longer believed, as he had told me over the summer, that Rand was one of the three candidates most likely to win the Republican nomination in 2016, because "the foreign-policy situation is such a wild card."
In August, John Downing accompanied Paul to Guatemala to perform pro-bono eye surgeries. Downing told me he thinks that Paul would be a good President, but he complained that Paul, in an effort to placate social conservatives, had endorsed the so-called "personhood amendment." That would grant a fertilized egg the full rights of an individual and make abortions, I.U.D.s, and the morning-after pill illegal. "They're going to kill him about it if he doesn't figure out a way to get away from it," Downing said. "He's going to lose half or more of women immediately once they find out what that would do to birth control."
In the car, Rand told Brown, "We'll do it." But he had one request. Paul's grassroots supporters were uneasy about his evolving positions on key issues. Benton said, "There's a sub-layer that's a very, very loud minority of supporters, and nothing is ever going to be right unless Rand is on a regular basis standing on the floor of the Senate smashing the establishment." He went on, "They want Ted Cruz on steroids, and that's just not going to work in the long term." With this in mind, Paul asked Brown to keep their deal secret until Brown had defeated Rubens and his other opponents. "We don't want to get any backlash from that," Paul said. "I know you're going to win."
Brown could deliver control of the Senate to Republicans this fall and give Paul an even larger platform from which to launch a Presidential campaign. "We want to pick up your seat," Paul told Brown. He hung up the phone and headed off to a fund-raiser. ♦