AUSTIN, Texas — While two of his top likely 2016 GOP presidential rivals square off up north in the Granite State, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is amassing influence—and courting millennials, while winning over top leaders in the tech community—here at the South By Southwest conference this weekend.
Paul on Saturday evening schmoozed with top technology leaders—including executives from the wildly successful internet radio company Pandora and social media powerhouse Snapchat—at a major-players-only private party in Austin hosted by Pandora.
The event at the chic downtown Austin bar the Gatsby, hosted other high profile attendees including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Will Hurd (R-TX). Paul, who had spent the day Saturday raising campaign cash at various fundraisers with high-dollar Texas donors, posed for photos with the tech luminaries and other major players present as Grammy-award winning DeeJay Mark Ronson performed on a stage out back.
Issa, the fiery former chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chatted with guests on the porch. In jeans and a tee-shirt he was seemingly more comfortable among his fellow entrepreneurs than in the halls of Congress in Washington. Issa is the wealthiest member of Congress with a net worth of about $450 million—earnings he made from founding and serving as CEO of Directed Electronics, Inc., (DEI) before his election to Congress.
Hurd, a freshman House member, told Breitbart News about how he views Washington, D.C., after the first few months of his term.
Washington seems distant from the rest of America, he says. He does town hall meetings as often as he can, heading back to his West Texas district nearly every weekend—telling his staff whenever he leaves that he’s going back to “the real world.” Hurd said the issue he heard from constituents most about recently is widespread opposition to the Iran nuclear deal that President Barack Obama is negotiating. Hurd says it’s crazy that Republicans in Congress are viciously attacked in Washington for standing up against Obama’s deal, since the American people don’t want it.
On Sunday and Monday, Paul will attend a series of events associated with South By Southwest. He’ll do a town hall with Twitter, a question-and-answer session with the Texas Tribune’s CEO, and an event with Young Americans for Liberty—a libertarian-leaning grassroots organization.
Before flying to Texas, on Friday Paul spoke to a predominantly liberal audience at the historically black university Bowie State University in Maryland. He enjoyed several rounds of applause and a standing ovation after delivering a message of conservatism to the students there.
Paul, having made visits this year to Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and other early presidential states, is is trying to take a different path than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are on the campaign trail.
Walker and Bush have been in New Hampshire shooting at each other after Bush’s soft-launch of a likely presidential bid a few months ago, and Walker’s meteoric rise after his explosive speech to the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines in January.
Bush will likely remain the establishment side of the Republican Party’s main candidate. But the real question is who wins what many in GOP circles refer to as the “sub-primary” to become the key alternative to the establishment.
Right now, the clear sub-primary frontrunner is Walker—he’s jousting with Bush day in and day out, and making headlines everywhere while hiring up some key staffers and raising big dollars. But, as Eliana Johnson at National Review recently reported, quoting some anonymous GOP insiders, Walker’s “escape velocity” due to his meteoric rise may be unsustainable in the long term—especially if his staff can’t get organized and he can’t get up to speed on key national policy issues including immigration, education, healthcare and especially foreign policy that as a governor he hasn’t had to deal with.
While Johnson’s National Review piece questions whether Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) would be able to bolt ahead of Walker, it is hard to see the conservative base fully forgiving the Florida Republican for his work on the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill last Congress. Immigration will become an even more important issue due to Obama’s executive amnesty and other 2016 candidates will pile on Rubio because of it. But for the same reasons many inside the beltway are talking about Rubio as a key contender to slip into the Walker slot atop the sub-primary against Bush, Paul seems poised to do exactly that. He’s been building key support in early primary states just like every one else, and can do the Iowa and New Hampshire diner tours and South Carolina meet-and-greets—along with the key candidate cattle calls and main stage speeches.
But what Paul has going for him is these projections of power at events such as South By Southwest, speeches at historically black colleges, and the building of coalition—an army, if you will—that he may surprise the entire political world by storming into the GOP nomination with just a year from now. Just like any other Tea Partier, Paul is frustrated with how Washington works—and is articulate on the trail in detailing his distaste with the permanent political class.
But the difference between Paul and some of the other potential contenders is he seems to have a very detailed and concerted plan—a vision, and a method to the madness—that he’s been executing for over a year on how to build an arsenal to overcome his opponents. As Paul ramps up as things get closer to 2016, he may just catch everyone in the entire political establishment off guard. After all, unlike the others, every move he makes seems to be part of a grander well-thought-out plan–and all his moves, from the political battles he picks to staff he hires to audiences he chooses to speak to and even the content of his messaging, are clearly disciplined. It’s almost as if he’s acting like the GOP nominee already.
His move to speak in Austin at South By Southwest is no different: No other potential 2016 GOP candidates are here, and it’s an opportunity for Paul to garner backing from major tech leaders, youth voters and opinion leaders throughout the country, all while fundraising and laying out for the American people yet again the vision he has for the country should he get elected to the White House.
Because of the fact he’s been building support for a potential candidacy–and for his ideas–for as long as he has, Paul consistently places among the top two or three candidates in most 2016 GOP presidential polls. All this maneuvering and building of a sustainable operation means that if and when Paul hits his so-called “escape velocity” getting his breakout moment like Walker’s in Des Moines, he’ll be able to maintain it and steer and control the ship he built all the way until election day. Paul could be the guy who breaks the endless cycle in which outsider candidates like himself seem to have been stuck in recent GOP presidential primary elections: having simply just one moment in the sun that fades away after the honeymoon from their first big break is over.