Republican jockeying in the 2016 U.S. presidential primary is becoming a contest over who will become the alternative to the Tea Party’s candidate.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the favorite of the small-government movement, and Republican rivals are starting to gang up on him to argue that he could dim the party’s chances against a Democratic Party unified behind Hillary Clinton.
“It feels good to be the anti-establishment figure until the entire establishment comes raining down on you, and that’s what they’re going to do to him,” radio talk show host Laura Ingraham said of Paul in an interview. “I’m a little surprised it’s happening so early.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered a rebuke of Paul in the Washington Post, casting him as an isolationist who would let terrorism fester beyond U.S. borders.
Paul is “curiously blind” to the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and “drawing his own red line along the water’s edge, creating a giant moat where superpowers can retire from the world,” Perry wrote in a July 11 opinion piece.
“I’m with Perry on that,” former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a failed candidate in 2012 Republican primary, said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Ohio Senator Rob Portman told Bloomberg News last week that he may run for president if he doesn’t see a viable Republican candidate with the experience and temperament to manipulate the levers of power in Washington -- an implicit criticism of Paul.
Paul has argued for a less interventionist foreign policy by the U.S. than many Republicans support, pushing for more scrutiny in distinguishing between the country’s vital and peripheral interests. He has also angered some Republicans by saying he doesn’t blame President Barack Obama for the current turmoil in Iraq, pointing the finger partly at those who originally supported the war.
“Various figures in the GOP establishment will, bit by bit, try to tear apart Rand Paul,” Ingraham said. His views on foreign policy are “disturbing” to Republican House and Senate leaders, she said, adding that “they probably see that he tracks more closely with the public at large.”
As much as other Republicans are maneuvering to develop the anti-Paul brand, he is working to expand his party base, an effort punctuated by his trip this weekend to Sun Valley, Idaho, to participate in the annual Allen & Co. conference, a gathering of top business executives.
For most Republican presidential aspirants, the primary challenge is finding the space between Democrat Clinton and Tea-Party-aligned Paul.
“It’s kind of spring training,” said former Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican. “They’re auditioning to the various constituencies within the party.”
Paul fashioned a reputation as a populist crusader in 2010, winning his Senate seat with tough talk about Wall Street and American over-extension abroad against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis and the U.S. invasion Of Iraq.
Last year, he spoke for almost 13 hours on the Senate floor against American drone policy, an effort that ranked among the longest filibusters in history.
Paul has distinguished himself from other Tea Party favorites, such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and even from his own father, former Texas Representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul, by working to expand his network beyond the movement.
He has befriended Nate Morris, the chief executive officer of Lexington, Kentucky-based waste-management company Rubicon Global, who was former President George W. Bush’s youngest campaign bundler in 2004.
While he admonished Republicans in April that they can’t be the party of “fat cats, rich people and Wall Street,” Paul’s biggest supporters include employees of Mason Capital Management, a $13.6 billion New York hedge fund, where 17 of 33 investors have given to his political apparatus.
At the Idaho conference, Paul met with Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg and Clarium Capital Management President Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor, according to Politico.
Mason co-founder Kenneth Garschina gave $250,000 to America’s Liberty PAC, a super-political action committee run by Paul supporters.
“Senator Paul is appealing to the entire Republican Party -- and beyond to independents and Democrats -- with substance and new ideas,” Paul’s 2016 strategist, Doug Stafford, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “Those who try to mischaracterize Senator Paul’s policies will find that it won’t work, as he will aggressively defend with facts, and happily debate his ideas for the direction of the party and the country.”