Sen. Rand Paul took a brief, few seconds out of his presidential announcement speech Tuesday to shout out a man who had helped make the moment in Louisville, Kentucky, possible.
“I never could have done any of this without the help of my parents who are here today. I'd like you to join me in thanking my Mom and Dad for all their help and support through the years,” Rand Paul said of his mother, Carol, and his father, Ron.
The moment was instructive as to how Paul will likely manage his father’s presence and role in his campaign. The elder Paul ran for president in 1988, 2008, and 2012. Now, the torch has been passed to his son, a rising star in the Republican Party who has the chance to perform better than his father ever did in the race to the presidency.
Paul’s challenge will be different than that of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a likely GOP candidate with presidential father (and brother) issues of his own. On the one hand, Rand Paul will need to capture the same enthusiastic support from young, libertarian-leaning Republicans that propelled his father to victory in states like Iowa. On the other, he will probably have to downplay his ties to his father, who has become much more outspoken on controversial issues since leaving Congress after 2012.
“Hardcore libertarians clearly helped Ron Paul in the early stages of 2012,” said Peter Levine, a professor at Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. “The limitation is that there are not that many hardcore libertarians.
“Rand has libertarians in his corner becoming active, but he definitely has to go well beyond Republican libertarians to win the White House.”
Part of the challenge is a change in mindset and an altered end goal. Ron Paul, said Sal Russo, the founder and chief strategist at the Tea Party Express, ran for president to make a point and to build a movement. He was trying to build a libertarian-minded base for years to come.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Russo said he thinks the base built by his father will help Rand Paul. But Rand, Russo said, has a different objective: He's running to win.
In an age when a candidate can be found guilty by association to family and senior advisers (Scott Walker, for instance, answered for a newly hired adviser who had a history of controversial tweets.), analysts and political strategists say Rand Paul will have to distinguish himself from his father’s positions on a host of issues.
Consider some of Ron Paul’s comments that have emerged over the past year:
“Ron Paul is Putin’s New Best Friend,” blared a headline from National Journal last year. He has criticized President Barack Obama and the U.S. for becoming involved in the conflict between the two countries, saying the U.S. should have allowed the region of Crimea to secede from Ukraine last year and become part of Russia. He also attacked the U.S. government’s quick response to the downing of a passenger plane last year, calling for a “full investigation,” and has proposed that a Ukrainian “coup” was “planned by NATO and the EU," among other theories.
Ron Paul wants to do away altogether with the NSA and has criticized the Obama administration for bringing charges against Edward Snowden, the leaker who stole thousands of classified documents and exposed secret, controversial surveillance programs. Ron Paul said Snowden’s indictment is proof the “U.S. government views you and me as the enemy.”
The Free Beacon chided Ron Paul, who it referred to as a “senior Rand Paul confidante,” for positing something of a conspiracy theory about how the events transpired.
Ron Paul vehemently opposes any continued U.S. involvement in the Middle East, including fighting the terror group calling itself the Islamic State.
During his time in the Senate, Paul has been noticeably more measured on all of those issues. He has spoken out on the need to “punish” Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he doesn’t want to do away with the NSA — just its programs he considers unconstitutional.
But the challenge, on that point, will be similar to Jeb Bush: How does Rand Paul become his own man?
“He is clearly running on a different platform from his father, but we see just too many Republican voters who will not abide by Paul’s stances on foreign, military, and monetary policy,” said Chris Krueger, a political analyst at Guggenheim Securities in Washington.
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.