Going from small-town eye doctor to president in just seven years would be historically rare, unexpected, and above all, different. If Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is to win the GOP nomination and eventually be elected president, his rise would contrast with the norms the political establishment has created. Paul railed against career politicians and the “Washington machine” in his announcement speech Tuesday, which he is able to do as someone who spent most of his professional life working in medicine in the small town of Bowling Green, Ky.
But to make that historically remarkable rise a reality, he needs to be a remarkably different candidate. The two have gone hand-in-hand – Paul’s rise is due to his standing apart. The assumptions are that Paul will have a tough time in the primaries because of his uniqueness, but really if he secures the Republican nomination, he will need to continue to stand out. There was promise of that in his announcement speech.
On privacy, Paul promised to end the NSA’s unconstitutional spying on day one of his presidency. On foreign policy, he recognized the threats and danger of radical Islam in the Middle East, but strongly came out against nation building and costly, messy, interventionist shenanigans. He proposed term limits and a balanced budget amendment, likely to make them both centerpieces of his campaign. He’s the only candidate talking about the Federal Reserve, criminal justice reform and reigning in the wasteful, destructive war on drugs.
But above all that, and highlighted in Paul’s announcement speech, was his discussion of “two Americas.” Paul has traveled to places like Detroit, Ferguson and Chicago and tried to promote the message of limited government to crowds not used to hearing it. He talked about income inequality and inequality of education – issues conservatives usually get hammered on for being tone deaf or not compassionate.
“Those of us who have enjoyed the American dream,” Paul said with enthusiasm Tuesday, “must break down the wall that separates us from the other America.”
Paul has flirted with trying to appeal to social conservatives and establishment Republicans, but even when doing so, it is clear he, and his message, are different. Paul has sometimes been criticized for trying to broaden his appeal, but that’s what building coalitions takes. And, as proof, Paul is receiving support not just from his buddies in Reps. Justin Amash, Thomas Massie and Mark Sanford, but also from former Rep. J.C. Watts, who praised Paul’s outreach to African-American communities, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who years ago was no fan of his colleague but has since jumped on the RandWagon.
Thus far, Paul’s success has been rooted in the fact that he is different, and he therefore builds these bridges. He can connect Ron Paul fans with social conservatives, social conservatives with establishment Republicans, Republicans with independents, conservatives with liberals. This is in contrast to Sen. Ted Cruz, the only other Republican officially in the race, who in the early stages of his campaign has only shown interest in talking to rooms full of people who already agree with him. Cruz is not going to be president of anything if he wants to live in a bubble. And that’s certainly a major difference between the two Tea Party favorites.
Despite baseless attacks rooted in intellectual dishonesty, Paul stands apart. He is not tone deaf, and he may end up being the only one in this thing that isn’t.
“We will thrive when we believe in ourselves again,” Paul said toward the tail end of his speech.
Likewise, if Paul believes in himself, and his message, he will also thrive. To be a transformative president, he first has to be a transformative candidate. If his announcement speech is any indication of what a candidate Paul will be like, there is a better than decent chance we can see a President Paul in just under two years. And it’s because he’s different.
Follow Joe Kaiser on Twitter at @TheJoeKaiser.