In the Carolinas, Rand Paul confronts a new war in the Middle East — and the voters who rejected his father.
by David Weigel
Oct 11, 2014 7:05 AM EDT
Rand Paul usually starts with a joke; it relieves the tension that’s never there. On Tuesday, Sept. 30, the junior Senator from Kentucky is running a little late, but a University of South Carolina lecture room is already overfull, stragglers fighting for space behind a row of TV cameras. A few college Democrats are in the room, but as listeners, not hecklers.
Most of the students actually sound like Brett Harris, a sophomore studying political science, who had showed up an hour early to win a front-row center seat. “I’d have camped out on the lawn if I’d had to,” he says, clutching a red-and-white STAND WITH RAND sign to his matching STAND WITH RAND T-shirt. “Of course I would! It’s Rand Paul!”
Harris starts to explain his affinity for Paul, and how right he’s been about foreign policy, when the man himself arrives; jeans and battered cowboy boots, no jacket. This will be his uniform for two days of speeches and schmoozing and selfies, across South Carolina and North Carolina, in front of everyone from military veterans to pastors to reporters to donors to students. The students would come first.
“Last time I was here, I was at a barbecue,” says Paul. “The guy in front of me was loading up two plates of barbecue. I said, ‘You’re not gonna live long eating like that!’ He said, ‘My granddad lived to be 105.’ I said, ‘He didn’t live to 105 by eating like that.’ He said, ‘No, my granddad lived to be 105 by minding his own business.’”
The joke is as fresh as the last grease scrapings from an outdoor smoker. Two years ago, Paul liked to deliver it before introducing his father, Rep. Ron Paul, to the Republican voters tasked with picking a presidential nominee. His father badly lost the South Carolina primary both times he ran, which was taken as evidence that antiwar libertarianism had no place in the heartland of the modern Republican party. Rand Paul is in the state to explain what these voters missed. His sort of politics should be popular—in fact, isn’t it popular already?