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Exclusive — Rand Paul At 38,000 Feet: GOP Needs Conservative, Not A Moderate As 2016 Nominee

38,000 FEET ABOVE AMERICA — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, tells Breitbart News he’s “gauging support” for a potential White House bid. In an exclusive interview aboard an American Airlines flight from Washington, D.C., to Dallas, Texas, he also said he thinks Republicans need to select a conservative — such as himself — as the 2016 GOP nominee for president, rather than a moderate such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“I think one of the biggest debates we will see is: Do we want the leader of our party to be a moderate or a conservative?” Paul said. “I think many times in the past, conservatives have divided the vote, and we’ve wound up with a moderate. The question is whether conservatives in the party are now strong enough to unite and elect a conservative. I think that will be a big debate.”

Paul also said to expect Common Core to be a central part of the 2016 nominating process.

I think Common Core will be a bigger debate than anybody really imagines, or particularly more than [former Florida] Gov. [Jeb] Bush. I think our party by and large would really agree with me: We really don’t need a Department of Education. I’ve been for abolishing it since 1980 when Ronald Reagan ran against it. I think there’s still a huge percentage of our party that thinks education should be handled at the local level not at the federal level.

Paul also lambasted both Bush and Christie on the day Mitt Romney — the 2012 GOP nominee — publicly announced he’s decided to stay out of the 2016 field. Romney is meeting with Christie on Friday night for dinner.

“I think our party is big enough to have moderates like Bush and Christie in it,” Paul said.

In some ways, from a tactical point of view, the more moderates in the race the more they divide the moderate vote and there will be room for a conservative candidate to win. To tell you the truth, we need a variety of people in the party. But the question is do we want a moderate to lead the party or a conservative? A lot of our travels are still gauging support. I grew up in Texas, so I have a kinship and connection to Texas.

Paul just scored a major coup in the political world, wooing Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri over to RAND PAC—his campaign-in-waiting assuming he decides to run for president. Munisteri joins Paul’s team—he called it a “winning team” in his statement—over the campaigns-in-waiting for two of his fellow Texans, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Gov. Rick Perry. Like Paul, both Cruz and Perry are actively making moves toward a White House bid.

“For us, it’s a big news that someone who’s been chairman of the Republican Party of Texas for the past five years has decided to leave his post to come and join us and help our political team,” Paul said. “That’s a big deal. Also, we’ve got back-to-back invitations to two of the top three largest Lincoln Day dinners in Texas. They call them Reagan Day Dinners. We’re expecting close to 1,000 people in Dallas and close to 1,000 people in Fort Worth.”

Paul is scheduled to give a keynote speech at the Dallas County Republican Party’s Reagan Day Dinner on Friday night. He’ll be keynoting the Fort Worth GOP dinner on Saturday night.

Before boarding American Airlines flight 1404 from Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, Paul chatted for a bit with Breitbart News. Passersby approached Paul—including one man from Chicago who urged him to run for president. “I hope you run,” the man said to Paul with a serious look in his eye. “We need you.”

Paul talked politics, and sports. He discussed the Super Bowl—and the recent Deflate-Gate scandal that rocked the New England Patriots organization. Paul joked that the way to handle the matter fairly would be to over-inflate the footballs the Patriots use in the Super Bowl by the same amount 11 of 12 footballs were under-inflated during the AFC championship game. “You can quote me on that on the record,” Paul joked. On the flight, as Paul wrapped up his interview with Breitbart News, he made sure to pull me aside and joked again: “You got my comment about how to have justice in the NFL at the Super Bowl, right?”

Paul didn’t sit in first class on the flight—something that’s highly unusual not just for a lawmaker but for a likely presidential candidate. Most U.S. House members and U.S. Senators—and usually presidential candidates, too—sit in first class, and nobody thinks anything of it. But almost as a matter of principle, Paul was sitting in coach aboard the plane. And he drew a sharp difference between himself and the Democrats’ most likely nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton. Clinton often flies on privately chartered jets.

I think that if there were a contrast between someone like myself and [Hillary]—I mow my own grass, my kids, one son delivers pizza while going to college and the one son works at a call center, we’re proud of them for working and we’re proud of them earning their own money. Like other families, we have to pay for our kids’ education. It’s not always easy. I’m not saying we’re poor by any means, but what I think is we struggle with many of the same things the middle class struggles with. We don’t typically get $200,000 for a speaking fee.

Paul said that what separates him from the other potential Republican presidential candidates is that he not only is electable and can win, he is still true to his conservative principles.

I think what we need in the Republican Party is someone who can win. In order to win, you need to be able to excite the grassroots and conservative bulk of our party—you have to be a conservative. But you also have to something about you or something about your issues that reaches out to new people, but that’s still consistent with being a conservative though. Conservatism is the core and the basis of everything but what emanates from that can be criminal justice reform that says big government can be a problem with business, but big government can always be a problem with justice in how we treat people—particularly people in our big cities and particularly people of color.

Paul continued by listing off several other areas conservatives can appeal to minorities and voters Republicans have typically left behind.

It can be about being conservative but also believing big government gets in the way of privacy and that we shouldn’t let government collect all of our phone records. I think if the issues that we reach out to new groups on are consistent with the belief against big government, I think the base will rally to that. What the base has not liked in the past is people who start out in the middle of the road, pretend to be conservative, and then go back to the middle when they win. I think that one advantage [I would have] when we get in this is that no one will question that I’m a fiscal conservative at the heart and always have been and have always voted that way. The extension is that we take those beliefs in limited government and we take them to people at Berkeley, we take them to people at Howard University, and we take them to people that frankly Republicans just haven’t been talking to.

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