What are Rand Paul’s Plans for 2016?

It has been clear for some time that Senator Rand Paul sees himself as far more than Kentucky’s junior senator.  Paul has established himself as a truly national figure - any remaining doubt of that was shredded by his nearly 13-hour filibuster two weeks ago, where Paul successfully took over the Senate for over half a day.  His actions that day won him the praise of many, and put his name on the lips of nearly every politically aware person — and many who aren’t.  Speculation has understandably abounded about whether Paul will run for President in 2016 — and if he will give up his Senate seat to do so.

Fuel for the latter proposition was added this week when Senator Paul made a dramatic reversal of the immigration views he espoused during his Senate campaign and made clear he was open to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (though he did not use those words).  As this Politico article points out:

The endorsement of any sort of legal status for illegal immigrants amounts to a remarkable reversal for Paul, who in his first month in the Senate proposed a constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship. (On Tuesday’s conference call, Paul said a secure border would make the amendment unnecessary.) While running against an establishment pick in Kentucky’s GOP primary in 2010, he proposed building an underground electric fence along the length of the entire border.

Such a position is likely to play far better in a national audience than a strictly state-wide one.  It will surely be labeled as “amnesty” by many in the GOP base, and could cause him problems in Kentucky.  It raises the question, then, if Paul even intends to stay in the Senate.  He may have his eyes on bigger things.  He has taken numerous positions in the Senate that could be seen as working to “bridge the gap” between the libertarian and conservative segments of the GOP.  His strong civil liberties stances earn him praise from libertarians, while his solid pro-life positions will appeal to many conservatives.

But I’m far from convinced that he’s giving up his Senate seat.  He still remains popular in his home state, and should have no problem getting re-elected if he so chooses.  It has yet to be seen if his immigration positions will damage these chances, but I see no real indication that he will - or should - leave the Senate in order to run for President.  Still, it’s clear that Senator Paul’s decisions over the next couple years will be some of most closely watched in Washington.  He represents a great opportunity for the GOP to re-establish itself as the party of limited government.  Whether or not he chooses to run for the White House in 2016, I sincerely hope to have him around for a long time.

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