In a week kicked off by a spat with fiery left-wing economist Paul Krugman and gift-wrapped with a poignant address to the Values Voter Summit, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) quietly had one of the best weeks of his budding political career.
Of course, the biggest news to come out of “Paul-world” last week was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) tapping of Rep. Ron Paul's former campaign manager Jesse Benton to play the same role in his 2014 reelection bid. More on that to follow, but other, less high-profile events also offered a glimpse into how far Paul has come since a heated 2010 primary that saw McConnell line up behind failed opponent Trey Grayson.
To this point, he has blazed a trail unique unto himself. Unlike other Tea Party voices, such as Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), Paul’s last name entitled—or cursed—him to inherit a nationally established brand long before he held office.
On the one hand, he possesses a campaign apparatus and name recognition extending far beyond Kentucky that defaults him to increased earned media. On the other, the ever-polarizing label as his father’s son may well prevent him from being taken seriously by large segments of the national Republican Party.
It is precisely his navigation of that treacherous terrain that has helped him write a playbook Tea Party conservatives should take strong notice of.
Well-documented are Paul’s efforts to establish solid working relationships with both Tea Party and establishment Republicans alike, the most notable being McConnell. He backed Mitt Romney for president before his father was technically out of the race but holds the libertarian line on issues surrounding the Patriot Act and TSA.
His political odyssey is being wrought on a tightrope between what some would call two worlds, and it seems to be paying off.
By the time it was all said and done, Paul’s debate with Krugman yielded a blog post from his opponent entitled “The Zombie That Ate Rand Paul’s Brain.” Repeated bashing from the likes of Krugman can go a long way towards endearing Paul to Republicans.
Paul knew he didn’t have to spike the football with Krugman and responded by accentuating the philosophical differences between the two viewpoints, while quipping that Krugman is “a lot nicer in person than he is on Twitter.” Such measured responses are what it will take for Paul to continue to break the mold constructed by his last name.
Then there’s the newly formed McConnell-Benton collaboration, which has clear implications. The Senate minority leader is looking to head off a potential primary challenge from the right, as Senators Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) contended with this cycle.
As strategic staffing decisions go, the Benton hire is a revolutionary one that shows how much the conservative movement has changed the Republican Party in just a few years. The most powerful Republican in the Senate has tapped a powerful insider from the world that gave birth to Paul’s political career. If you thought they were going anywhere with Ron’s retirement, think again.
The icing on the cake of Paul’s rocking week came in the form of his speech to the Values Voter Summit on Friday. Rife with eloquently spoken social conservatism and heartfelt remarks about a faith that wasn’t easily attained, the speech demonstrated the appeal that Paul has worked to cultivate among pro-lifers, as well as economic hawks.
As much as the exchange with Krugman served as a wonkish kickoff to his week, the speech was a separate policy bookend with an indirect political boon in the middle.
Such a week will go unnoticed by most Americans, but for hacks and flacks already looking at future chessboard scenarios, the last week has been a subtle reminderthat Paul is no slouch at this game—playing it with the deft political hand his father often lacked.Brandon Howell is an account services director at Hynes Communications and a contributor to the Peach State political blog Georgia Tipsheet.