By JONATHAN MARTIN | 4/25/11 4:33 AM EDT
Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, is thinking about another presidential run. His son, Rand, the newly elected Kentucky senator, has a book out and is himself travelling to early states and keeping open the possibility of a White House bid. And another Paul progeny, Texas doctor Robert Paul, has recently flirted with the idea of attempting to join his brother in the Senate.
Call them the libertarian Kennedys.
Four years after the family patriarch was mocked as a gadfly during his failed presidential bid—his second—the 75-year-old Paul is more recognizable than ever. And there are signs of a dynasty in the making, with his devoted following likely to be passed down to his children even if his White House hopes end with this election.
Ron’s discussion of a probable run and Rand’s recent dalliance—and seemingly inevitable future bid—offer a vivid preview of the future: the Pauls, to the consternation of some in their Republican Party, are here to stay.
With Rand’s higher-profile platform, better-polished presentation and similar adherence to the small-government ideals that animate his father, it seems likely that a Paul will be participating in presidential debates, winning straw polls and helping to shape the party’s debate for years, perhaps even decades, to come.
The eight-term congressman and obstetrician resists the Kennedy comparison, saying that he only wants to push ideas - not build a political machine.
“I was delighted when I heard he was going to medical school,” Paul joked in an interview when asked about his ophthalmologist son Rand following in his footsteps.
But the father acknowledged that Rand’s last name and access to his dad’s national fundraising network offered an important initial boost in Kentucky. The elder Paul, though, is quick to say that his senator son has the potential to make an even broader impact.
“He comes across as more mainstream, at least in appearance,” said Rep. Paul. “And I think he’ll be a better legislator - he’ll offer amendments, get bills passed. I’m not a good legislator.”
What he has, though, is a precise vision, and a long view of politics.
In that sense, he resembles Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., that clan’s patriarch, who knew that he would never able to parlay his wealth and influence into public office but used it to give his children a leg up when they got into politics.
Similarly, Ron Paul has created a brand, developed a following and established a source of fundraising that will enable the next generation to surpass him. A top Republican recalled the elder Paul approaching him as long ago as 2007 to talk up a son of his down in Kentucky.
Just as John F. Kennedy took advantage of his father’s connections while being careful to not come off as a mere tool of his bootlegging, isolationist old man, Rand Paul was strategic about his dad’s rare trips to Kentucky last year and, in the name of viability, sought to play down some of the edgier foreign policy views the congressman has always been happy to express.
“It was frustrating for us because he was not acting like his Dad,” said Trey Grayson, the Kentucky Republican who lost to Rand in the primary last year.
Like the Kennedys, the Pauls are able to keep their focus on the national scene without worrying about their own standing at home because they represent ideologically sympathetic areas.
“He’s the only United States senator I’ve ever seen here who treats representing the state as a secondary matter,” said longtime Kentucky political reporter Al Cross. “But people knew what Rand Paul was when they elected him.
Family members, however, say it’s not like the Pauls huddle to hatch out the future next to the pool of the family home in exurban Houston like some latter-day Hyannisport or Hickory Hill.
Rep. Paul notes he didn’t attempt to push politics on his son.
“He saw my library and my books and he’d pick them up and start reading them,” he recalled, noting that his four other children also generally agree with his policy views. “But the other ones didn’t study Austrian economics [like Rand].”
“They talk about ideas and father-son family issues,” added Jesse Benton, an adviser to both Pauls. “They don’t sit there and concoct their political strategy.”
Yet Benton, 32, himself offers an example of how the Pauls are becoming a political family in their own right.
Just as the Kennedys had their uber-loyal family retainers, the Pauls have Benton as their fixer-gatekeeper. He worked on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2008 and then was dispatched to Kentucky last year to take over Rand’s Senate run when the candidate found himself under fire for remarks he made about the Civil Rights Act after winning the GOP primary. Interview requests to the House office of Ron and Senate office of Rand were routed to Benton. And when the Pauls each visited Iowa separately in successive weeks earlier this month, he accompanied them each time.
“It was like Tom Hagen or something,” said one Republican there, referring to the Corleone family consigliere played by Robert Duvall in “The Godfather.”
Benton is no ordinary staffer—he’s one of the family, married to Ron’s granddaughter and Rand’s niece, having met her on the campaign in 2008.
Benton speaks authoritatively about the family.
“Robert’s not running,” he said flatly about the Senate prospects of Ron’s youngest son, a family doctor outside Fort Worth who has instructed his assistants to tell reporters he isn’t offering interviews.
Another Paul-by-marriage, however, is quietly getting in the political game.
The GOP ad firm that made Rand’s Senate ads last year, The Strategy Group for Media, last week hired his wife, Kelley Ashby Paul, to serve as director of client communications.
Because the elder Paul’s following is as narrow as it is passionate – which is to say he’s unlikely to ever become president — the network that he’s built up is too easily overlooked. But three years after he ended his presidential bid, the mark Ron Paul has left is unmistakable.
Just look, for example, at how the congressman is going about selling his house.
He’s set up a website, http://www.buyronpaulshouse.com
, to maximize sale potential of his four-bedroom, five-bathroom home in Lake Jackson, Texas, and is making a direct appeal to his fans and potential buyers about their chance to buy a piece of history for $325,000.
“The same home office Dr. Paul used for 42 years,” boasts the site. “Generations of Liberty-loving kids have grown up here, and you can continue the tradition.”
Then there are the oft-updated grassroots websites devoted to the cause such as the Daily Paul and PaulForums, which now boost both Rep. Paul and Sen. Paul.
Each is already promoting a MoneyBomb – a day-long online fundraising push that Paul used with great success four years ago – timed to coincide with the first GOP presidential primary debate next month.
The elder Paul, often referred to as “Dr. No” for a career-long practice of casting lonely votes in dissent, credits the collapse of the economy in the fall of 2008 for keeping him and his ideas relevant.
“I thought I would just disappear once again into the Congress but then all of the sudden there was this tremendous interest, first from the business press,” he recalled about his political resurrection, suggesting that his predictions about the economy had been borne out.
Going on three years later, the brand is stronger than ever.
“I’m hard-pressed to think who else has such hard-core following in the party – maybe Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin,” said Grayson.
Now the director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Grayson said he was going to invite his former opponent up to Cambridge to speak this summer. “I’ve had students approach me about Rand,” he explained.
Indeed, even if Ron does run again for the White House this year, it’s clear that Rand is already on his way down the same path– and could be a much more serious contender than his father ever was. He’s privately telling Republicans that he thinks Obama will be difficult to beat – a hint that he’ll hold off until 2016 when there is an open race and his dad is likely to have hung it up.
“Ron Paul is the pioneer but Rand Paul is the really the future,” said Dave Carney, a veteran GOP consultant who worked for George H.W. Bush and is now Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s top political adviser. “Rand Paul is a serious national figure and could be a big-time player.
He’s already attracting plaudits from the sort of mainstream Republicans who have shunned the elder Paul.
Iowa Republicans took notice when their senior Sen. Charles Grassley volunteered to introduce his new colleague at a party event in the state this month and then offered glowing praise.
“Now so far he’s not quite as famous as his dad – but I bet he will be,” Grassley said, noting that Paul “believes like you and I do very much in putting the Constitution of the United States ahead of everything else.”
Carney recalled hearing Rand speak at a Kentucky fundraiser in April.
“There was not a single thing he said about the budget deal where he would not have gotten many standing ovations at many state parties in country,” said Carney.
Grassley’s embrace of the Constitution and Carney’s observation about Rand’s message illustrate why the Pauls are likely to remain a force within the party: Republicans are no longer holding them at a distance and are instead moving toward their views.
The family’s brand of conservativism – strict adherence to the Constitution at home, limited spending and restraint abroad — is now on the ascent within the GOP.
The elder Paul’s decades-long push to audit the Federal Reserve has made it through the House and has picked up mainline conservative support in Senate. The rise of the Tea Party has made spending size-of-government issues as central to Republicans as fealty to tax cuts. Even prominent establishment figures such as Haley Barbour are openly questioning American nation-building in Afghanistan.
And that’s to say nothing of Rand’s romp last year in Kentucky, in which he easily dispatched Grayson, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked candidate, in the primary before cruising to victory in the fall.
“That he won and won easily was a confirmation of our ideas,” said Rep. Paul. “I wouldn’t say vindication but a confirmation that our ideas are correct.”