Ron Paul’s legacy looms over son’s White House ambitions

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Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) laid important groundwork for his son’s 2016 presidential aspirations in 2008 and 2012 — building a network of online donors, a devoted band of libertarian activists and a well-recognized political brand.

But as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) begins planning his own potential White House campaign, GOP strategists warn he’ll need to avoid following too closely in his dad’s footsteps if he hopes to find more success. 

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The elder Paul could be both a boon and a bane to a Rand 2016 campaign, firing up the grass roots but haunting efforts to branch out into the mainstream of the Republican Party.

Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate race benefited from the involvement of his father, who campaigned for him in Kentucky and allowed his son to tap into his vast donor network.

A former Ron Paul aide, who continues to work with the family, said it’s likely Ron would do whatever is needed to help Rand in 2016 — but that he wouldn’t want to eclipse his son.

“Knowing Ron ... he’s going to want Rand to be judged by who he is and to stand for himself,” the aide said. 

While Ron Paul has ceded the spotlight to his son since retiring from the House in January, he continues to engage on policy. Last week, while promoting a new book he authored on education reform, Ron told Jay Leno he hadn’t discussed the potential of a White House campaign with Rand.

But he offered this father-to-son advice: “I would say be very cautious; you could get elected.”

Ron Paul failed twice on that score, in part because his libertarian views on social issues were either too wonky or too liberal to win the GOP nomination in 2008 and 2012.

The Texas congressman’s monetary policy views — which centered on abolishing the Federal Reserve — were also too far outside the party’s mainstream.

A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party who formerly served as Ron Paul’s Iowa vice chairman, told The Hill that there is a concern that some of the elder Paul’s positions could drag Rand down.

“I think there’s some benefit to [Ron Paul] being involved, but you’re also going to have people try to take advantage of some of Ron’s positions and try to demagogue him,” he said.

“I think people really don’t understand the depths of where Ron’s coming from on some issues.”

Both Pauls have come under fire for criticizing parts of the Civil Rights Act. The elder Paul also faced scrutiny over a series of racially charged newsletters authored in his name.

Rand Paul appears well aware of the cloud the elder Paul could cast over him if he runs in 2016 and has taken steps to move beyond his father.

The younger Paul has shown a willingness to work with establishment figures in the party, most prominently through his endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Rand Paul has focused less on monetary policy than his father and has come out as more socially conservative on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

And he’s gained praise for an ability, which his father never fully had, to communicate more nuanced libertarian positions on issues like foreign policy.

While aiming his message at a broader Republican audience could boost Rand’s acceptance among establishment figures and major donors, he runs the risk of alienating Ron’s most enthusiastic supporters in the process.

Matthew Hurtt, a 2012 at-large  presidential delegate from Virginia who supported Paul, said some Ron Paul supporters might be unhappy with Rand’s shift on certain issues.

“There are … some Ron Paul supporters who may not agree with everything Rand has done. Ron could possibly smooth over those ‘operational differences’ and bring more people into the fold,” he said.

Spiker is one of a handful of former Ron Paul campaign staffers who now work in the Iowa party establishment, including Iowa GOP co-chairman David Fischer and finance director Drew Ivers.

All three are all examples of Ron Paul loyalists who could help Rand if he launches his own campaign.

“I think there’s a lot of interest [in Rand] amongst people who were involved in Ron’s campaign. They like Rand, and they see Rand as a candidate that has many of the same attributes as his father,” the aide said. “Having people who have done it before is useful and important for a presidential bid.” 

Hurtt said many of Ron Paul’s supporters are waiting in the wings for the younger Paul to jump.

“Anecdotally, I’d say 95 percent of the Ron Paul supporters in Virginia would be willing to jump on to a Rand Paul presidential campaign,” he told The Hill.

But asked whether he saw himself hitching his wagon to the Rand Paul train, Spiker pointedly demurred. 

“Every campaign’s different. He’ll have to pursue people just like his dad would,” he said, noting that other libertarian leaders like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have emerged. 

Even if some of the new faces draw “Paulites” away, Rand will have a built-in family network.

Ron Paul’s former campaign manager, Jesse Benton, married Rand Paul’s niece Valori Pyeatt and could play a role in the campaign.

Rand’s brother Ronnie Paul heads Campaign for Liberty, a nonprofit group created to develop Rand Paul’s grassroots following. Sister Lori Pyeatt, who worked on her father’s campaign, would also be likely to help out.

“Paul campaigns have typically been a family affair. I can’t imagine that [Rand’s] brothers or sisters wouldn’t be involved,” the former Ron Paul aide said.