So Rand Paul’s filibuster-that-wasn’t-actually-a-filibuster (the House NSA reform bill he was complaining about had not been scheduled for action–nor was the Patriot Act extension that may take its place in the Senate) consumed 10-and-a-half hours yesterday, time that coincided nicely with the waiting period prior to a key cloture vote today on Trade Promotion Authority. Close Paul-watcher Dave Weigel asks what Paul accomplished with this gesture, and two things seem to stand out in his analysis.
First, it was sort of an opportunity for Paul to reprise his famous 2013 filibuster with all the resources of a presidential campaign.
Paul’s floor strategy was an evolution of his 2013 filibuster against CIA Director John Brennan, a moment he used to ask whether the Obama administration could legally justify drone killings of Americans. That speech had been a social media sensation, the mother of countless Paul memes. The 2015 filibuster had the feel of indie film director suddenly gifted with the resources of a major Hollywood studio.
And the other big thing is that Paul was able to show some visible support from Senate Democrats, seven of whom (Blumenthal, Cantwell, Coons, Heinrich, Manchin, Tester and Wyden) participated at one point or another in the proceedings. Most if not all of them, to be sure, didn’t actually agree with Paul on the ultimate question; most think the House-passed bill, perhaps with some amendments, would be fine. But it’s increasingly obvious that Paul’s meta-message to his fellow-Republicans is that he’s a guy with unshakable constitutional conservative principles whose appeal extends considerably beyond the GOP ranks. It’s a way to get around the painful choice between ideology and electability Republicans face in every presidential nominating process–not that different, really, than Scott Walker’s, though in Walker’s case the proof isn’t seven Democratic senators joining him in a “filibuster” or African-American students listening to him respectfully, but three election victories in a blue state while assaulting public sector unions. That could well wind up being the coin of the realm in the intra-GOP competition: showing you can win friends and influence people without compromise.