Photo: Grace Wyler/Business Insider
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul firmly staked out his place as a conservative firebrand this week, igniting the blogosphere and cable news punditry with his feisty interrogation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during Wednesday’s Senate hearing on Benghazi.The exchange — in which he told Clinton he would have “fired her” if he were president — was eyebrow-raising, but not particularly surprising. In recent weeks, Paul has made a habit of inflaming political passions, part of a calculated effort to boost the Kentucky Senator’s national profile in advance of a possible 2016 presidential bid.
Check out Paul’s activities in the last month alone:
• He took a tour of Israel with 40 evangelical leaders, including several from Iowa and South Carolina, two key early voting states.
• He accused President Barack Obama of acting like a “king” by issuing executive orders to curb gun violence, and told off New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for his criticism of the NRA. (He also chided Christie for throwing a “tantrum” over Hurricane Sandy relief aid.)
• He spent Inauguration Day in South Carolina, where he spoke to the Charleston Meeting, a exclusive conservative confab in the first-in-South primary state. At that meeting, he accused House Republicans of “retreating” on the debt ceiling.
• After grilling Clinton Wednesday, he emailed supporters a video of his questioning with the subject line: “Had I Been President I Would Have Relieved Clinton Of Her Duties”
Regardless of whether he runs for president in 2016, Paul’s recent maneuvers are further indication he plans on playing a big role in reshaping the Republican Party in the wake of its 2012 losses.
“I think we’ve become less and less competitive. If we don’t adapt or evolve, we’re going to die or become a permanent minority party,” he told Business Insider during his trip to Israel earlier this month. “Right now, Republicans are not competitive on the West Coast, we’re not competitive in New England; in this last election, we weren’t competitive in the Rust Belt or in big cities.”
“I think one of the things that I have to offer, and that libertarian ideas have to offer, is that I think we have to approach things differently, and appeal to different ideas,” Paul added. “I think that has more appeal to independents and moderates.”
Still, unlike most potential White House contenders, Paul is not shy about his interest in a 2016 presidential run.
“We’re exploring the possibility,” he told Business Insider. “We’re doing some travelling, meeting new people. We probably won’t make a decision for two years.”
One possible obstacle could be Paul’s re-election race in Kentucky, which is also in 2016. Paul has already announced that he will run for a second Senate term, and state law there does not allow a candidate’s name to appear on the ballot twice.
Of course, Paul would not have to make a choice about which race to run in until sometime in the middle of 2016, and thus well into the Republican primary race. That raises the question of whether Paul, like his father, would use a presidential campaign as a platform to advance his ideas and personal profile — and push the party to the right — rather than as a legitimate attempt to win the Oval Office.
For now, at least, Paul dismisses that as a possibility:
“I would only run if I thought I could win,” he told Business Insider. “If I If I didn’t think I could be competitive, I wouldn’t consider it.”
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