In recent years, Senator Rand Paul has called for abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service. He’s urged an audit of the Federal Reserve. He’s questioned the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
He’s even suggested there’s a risk Americans could soon become like Germans of the “Weimar Republic in 1923” and need wheelbarrows full of money to buy groceries because of hyperinflation triggered by excessive debt. Adolf Hitler, Paul warned, gained power as a result.
“We’re on that road, if we’re not careful,” he said during an April 2010 campaign stop.
Now that he’s considered a possible Republican candidate for president in 2016, Paul isn’t emphasizing any of that.
As Paul, 50, seeks to keep open the option of a 2016 bid, he’s either silent on such subjects or more nuanced in answers to questions than three years ago. It’s a typical progression for a potential presidential contender and especially important for Paul, who is known for getting himself into rhetorical controversies.
“He certainly is thinking about the future and a run for higher office and there has been some lessoning of the direct Tea Party influence,” said David Redlawsk, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “It might befit his future goals to be a little less of a firebrand and more like someone who might get something done.”
Paul’s status as a rising star among Republicans was elevated by a 13-hour filibuster earlier this month against President Barack Obama’s military drone policy, as well as a March 14 speech that was well received by the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual meeting of groups whose members are a core part of the Republican base.
With the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments today in a same-sex marriage case, Paul says he’d like to see marriage eliminated from tax and insurance laws. Instead, he’d promote the use of contracts between adults as the marital bond for legal and tax purposes.
“I don’t want the government promoting something I don’t believe in,” Paul, who supports the religious definition of marriage between a man and a woman, said during a March 24 Fox News interview. “But I also don’t mind if the government tries to be neutral on the issue.”
As he works to boost his profile, Paul is going to Iowa to headline a May 10 state Republican Party fundraising dinner, a coveted invitation for presidential hopefuls. Moira Bagley, a Paul spokeswoman, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Of special interest to Iowans, Paul as a Senate candidate expressed suspicion about federal farm subsidies received by virtually every farmer in the state that’s traditionally the first step on the road to the White House.
“Being in favor of trade is the best chance for farmers’ income to grow,” Paul said in July 2010 during an appearance before the Kentucky Farm Bureau. “I cannot simply promise you that we will just keep on passing out money.”
At $23.6 billion, Iowa ranked second among states for total farm subsidy payments collected from 1995 through 2011, according to the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, a conservation-advocacy organization that tracks subsidies. The state is the biggest U.S. producer of corn and soybean, and all presidential candidates who pass through are eventually asked about their views on agriculture policy and funding.
The next season of corn should be planted there by the time Paul arrives for his May fundraising appearance.
“Iowans are very sensitive to that,” said Craig Schoenfeld, a Republican strategist who worked for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the last presidential campaign and is now chief operating officer of DomiKnow Inc., a digital marketing company in Des Moines. “Anytime you start tweaking a formula, talking about eliminating subsidies, there are questions about what replaces it and what is the transition.”
Paul last year offered an amendment that would limit all farm subsidy payments to Americans with adjusted gross incomes of more than $250,000. The proposal, which failed, could help reduce his political risk because most Iowa farmers don’t make that much.
He’s also endorsed comprehensive immigration changes to give legal status to the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented workers. Schoenfeld said he expects activists will listen carefully on that issue, as well.
“People are going to pay attention if there is a pathway to citizenship,” said Schoenfeld. “Comments along those lines may be scrutinized a bit more.”
Paul may be insulated from criticism at the event because the dinner he’s speaking at is being hosted by a state party whose leadership has largely been taken over by supporters of his father, former Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who ran for president three times.
Just as he’s tempered his remarks while shifting from Senate candidate to potentially a White House challenger, Paul has refrained from embracing some positions held by his father, who was often dismissed by Republicans for being on the fringe of party orthodoxy.
The elder Paul talked about a return to linking the dollar to gold and a non-interventionist foreign policy. He opposed the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. He also criticized the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, saying the U.S. should have worked with Pakistan and shown more respect for international rules of law.
While his father called for allowing states to regulate the use of marijuana as a matter of personal liberty, the son is making a different argument on the issue.
“The main thing I’ve said is not to legalize them, but not to incarcerate people for extended periods of time,” Paul said in his Fox News interview. “There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for nonviolent crimes. And that’s a huge mistake. Our prisons are full of nonviolent criminals.”
Paul said he doesn’t want to encourage people to use marijuana, although he also doesn’t want to see lives ruined because of bad youthful decisions.
“Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and I really think, you know, look what would have happened, it would have ruined their lives,” he said. “They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys, and they go to jail for these things and I think it’s a big mistake.”
Obama and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have acknowledged trying marijuana.
While taking more calibrated positions on some issues, Paul echoes his father’s willingness to make bold proposals on others. In his CPAC speech, he called for elimination of the Department of Education, cutting the corporate income tax in half and taxing individuals at a flat rate of 17 percent.
Paul is selling himself as someone who might be able to help Republicans win over more independents and young people.
“Someone like myself, I think, could appeal to young people, independents and moderates, because, many of them do think it’s a mistake to put people in jail for marijuana use and throw away the key,” he said in his Fox News interview. “I think there are people who would like a less aggressive foreign policy. There are all kinds of issues that don’t neatly fit in the left-right paradigm.”
During a March 19 appearance on CNN, Paul was asked whether he is running for president.
“I haven’t made a decision,” he said. “But I do want to be part of the national debate and people do get more attention when they go to Iowa.”