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The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza On Rand Paul

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The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza wrote a mini-biography of Rand Paul for the current issue of The New Yorker.  He joined me today to discuss the piece:




HH: I begin with Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for the New Yorker. Hello, Ryan, welcome back, it’s been too long.

RL: It has been too long. I’m happy to be back, though.

HH: Well, I want to talk about this epic piece in The New Yorker, The Revenge Of Rand Paul, which I’ve linked over at I do say epic. Is it over 10,000 words? It’s like an e-book on Rand Paul.

RL: You know, it really is. I mean, you will not believe this, but the first draft was more than twice as long. But…

HH: You could put it out as an e-book, really. You could.

RL: You know, to be honest, I was thinking about that, because yeah, I really got into the weeds on some of this stuff.

HH: Well, it’s very interesting. You spent more time, well, first of all, tell the audience, how much time did you spend talking with Rand Paul physically and over the phone.

RL: We had four different conversations in Washington, and in Kentucky, or I guess technically in Cincinnati and Kentucky, because one of the trips was when he gave that Urban League speech in Cincinnati, and then we drove across the water there and continued the conversation in the car. And you know, I would say a few hours in total. He was very generous with his time, answered all my questions, as he is, you know, he’s known for that. He’s one of these politicians, Hugh, who I think similar to Paul Ryan who are ideological and believe that they, the more they talk to you, the more you might come around to their view of things. And he sort of likes intellectual debate and intellectual chatter.

HH: You know what’s curious about that, that’s changed with us. For the first year he was in office, he would do the show at any moment. And he stopped doing us, period, won’t talk to us, won’t do our show anymore.

RL: Really?

HH: And…

RL: And did you notice any, was there was change…

HH: No idea, none. I didn’t attack him or anything. I just think he decided that he’d done enough conservative talk radio.

RL: Yeah.

HH: And you know, there’s a quote in your piece about they just want to call me names, calling me curiously blind and isolationist. That’s just name-calling. I never call him an isolationist. I call him a non-interventionist, but he was referring to Rick Perry there.

RL: Yes.

HH: I think maybe he’s written off a lot of conservative talk radio as simply neocon or hawkish, and he won’t talk to us.

RL: I think that’s interesting. I think he’s ambivalent about those critics. On the one hand, he’s spending an awful lot of time trying to woo people that criticize his foreign policy views. But on the other hand, and this comes through really in his book, The Tea Party Goes To Washington, he has a certain sense of, you know, that what he would describe as neocons were wrong, and he was right, and so why does he have to go suck up to those people. I will tell you one story that did not appear in the piece, Hugh. Someone told, a very, let’s say a very internationalist, a very important donor in the Republican Party with very internationalist views, the story was related that Rand Paul was trying to woo this person, and came out of a meeting with him, and this person said oh, my God, this guy sounded like John McCain in there.

HH: Oh.

RL: So he is sort of, you know, he’s got a little bit of a reputation of, you know, like a lot of politicians, trying to sound a little bit different depending on who he’s talking to.

HH: Well, what’s interesting, nowhere in American history has it been the case that the sins of the father, much less the columns of the father, are visited on the son. And I was trying to think, even in American media where you see child-parent duos, or you see in politics, they never have to carry the burden of their parents’ politics almost uniquely the way Rand Paul does. And I wondered, did you feel that that was the only time you’ve ever laid that much of a parental figure’s baggage at the feet of their child in all your reporting, Ryan Lizza?

RL: That’s a really good question, and a very fair question, and I think he’s very, and it’s something that he points out. There’s a scene in the piece where he’s complaining to me about a New York Times report that he claims does that. I think you have to look, okay, did the person grow up, because obviously, his father’s very ideological, right, has strong views. So did the person grow up in that world adopting the same views? Or did he run away from them? Or what’s the relationship between the two?

HH: You know who really pushed back at me on that once was Mark Halperin, because of his famous father.

RL: Yeah.

HH: And he utterly rejected the idea that his father’s politics had anything to do with his journalism.

RL: But there’s, so let’s look at Rand and Ron, right? That’s the test here. What was Rand writing when he was becoming intellectually curious, and when he was sort of in his formative stage in life? Let’s start with college. Go back and look at the essays he wrote. Look at the actions and the politics he was engaged in when he…

HH: At Baylor, yeah.

RL: …was at Baylor. There were, he, straight out of his father’s playbook. There was no sense of a rebel. You know, someone told me once that, this left-leaning journalist, I forget who it is, but her son is a libertarian, right? And like a lot of kids, sometimes you rebel against the parents’ ideology. If that were the case, I think we would all be writing that about Rand Paul. That is not the case.

HH: But it’s also not the case that he’s his father, and I think it uniquely, because his father’s profile…

RL: Yeah.

HH: …even in a way that George W. Bush was not pursued by George Herbert Walker Bush’s policies, or even Hillary being pursued by Bill. I mean, it’s arguable that Hillary has been far more influenced by Bill than Rand by Ron. I mean, that’s just the number of years. But let me ask you, because Ryan, you spent more time with the sort of top tier Republicans than any other New Yorker sort of journalist than I know. And so I would like you to articulate what are the differences that you see between Ted Cruz and Rand Paul on policy?

RL: Oh, that’s a good question. I spent a, the last time I spent a significant amount of time with Ted Cruz was during the 2012 election when we drove in the car together for a couple of hours.

HH: Right.

RL: …between campaign stops when he was running. And frankly, back then, Ted Cruz had not yet carved out the identity that he’s carved out since then. He was cruising to election then, and he was not quite a, you know, at least in my conversations, ideological, frankly. But anyway, they have big differences on foreign policy. Ted Cruz would, I don’t, you would not fairly describe him as isolationist, neo-isolationist, non-interventionist.

HH: Non-interventionist…

RL: Right, none of those terms apply. But then on other issues, Ted Cruz has come to the Senate and he has tried to really rally the base of the Republican Party and pick fights very, very aggressively in a way that Rand Paul, interestingly, has not.

HH: Well then, let me put it to you this way. There are really five intellectual leaders in the Republican Party right now, people who get out there, and I’m putting Paul Ryan off to the side, because he’s not running for president, in my view. It’s Cruz and Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker. How do you compare and contrast? Do the four of them fight each other for the same vote while Rand Paul is off fighting for a different set of votes?

RL: No, look, I think there’s a, the Tea Party vote and the libertarian vote overlap in some ways, but it’s distinct in some ways, right?

HH: Yup.

RL: And if there’s a fight for whatever that percentage of libertarian voters who actually care about Republicans and vote in Republican primaries is, Rand Paul is going to win the majority of that, no matter what. He’s not, Ted Cruz is not going to have access. And I think there’ll be a bigger fight over what we call the Tea Party vote. But then ideologically, some Tea Party voters on foreign policy are more libertarian, some are more internationalist, right? And I think Rand is going to lose a lot of voters if the current, if the foreign policy debate continues as it’s continued the last month. If you notice in the piece, the arc of the piece is, towards the end of the piece, the last few weeks of reporting, things change for Rand Paul.

HH: You say he’s changed rather dramatically in the last few weeks, as a matter of fact.

RL: Yeah, so I was reporting this while ISIS was becoming a bigger and bigger threat. And so I’m talking to Rand in July, and he’s telling me don’t intervene, don’t intervene, we’ve got to stay out, how could you send a GI over there. Then, suddenly, we have ISIS on the news beheading people. It becomes a sort of politically more difficult issue for him. And he makes that famous statement that if he were president, he would go before Congress and ask Congress to approve a plan to militarily destroy ISIS. When he said that, a lot of people thought well, he’d really moved, he’d really changed his position on foreign policy. I think in the end, he hadn’t really changed much, but there was a lot of pressure for him to make it sound like he had changed.

HH: Well, I want to focus on the end of this story as well, because in the title of the story, The Revenge Of Rand Paul, is foreshadowed this line which really struck out at me. “Paul was drawn to the idea of overcoming the Republicans who for 34 years had pilloried his father as an extremist.” So you’ve got sort of his Hamlet-like revenge the father thing going here. And I’ve just never, ever thought of Rand Paul in that way. I mean, he left Texas, he went to Kentucky…

RL: No, see, I think you’re wrong about that, Hugh, and this is something I’ve thought about a lot in reporting this, and I don’t mean, you know, you’ve got to be careful about psychoanalyzing these guys. But you have to remember that he was 11 years old when his life changed forever. His dad went from being a widely-respected, small town OBGYN who was known in Lake Jackson, Texas for giving lectures on women’s health, and was a white collar, respected member in a working-class area of south Texas. And then boom, he’s 11 years old in 1974, and his dad is running for Congress, and suddenly is being attacked as a political extremist. He loses that race, he comes back in ’76 in a wild year in politics where he wins election, goes to the convention in Kansas City as a Reagan delegate, and they watch as the Ford delegates pillory the Reagan delegates. Literally, at one point during that convention, the Ford family members throw garbage on the Texas delegates. So he’s growing up in the sort of cradle of the new right, right?

HH: Yup.

RL: And growing up with these famous, with a front row seat to the most famous fights of the grassroots of the Republican Party versus the establishment. And he sees his dad, you know, the victim of the establishment through all of those races until 1984 when Phil Gramm, who was a former Democrat, destroys his dead in a Senate primary. The whole Republican establishment lines up with Phil Gramm. His dad leaves politics. His dad comes back in politics in ’96. What happens? He faces a Democrat-turned-Republican again for a new seat. And who lines up on the side of the former Democrat? Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Karl Rove, all attacking Ron Paul as an extremist whose foreign policy views are out of the mainstream, because he didn’t support the first Gulf War. So his whole education through decades is his dad saying one thing, and the Republican establishment saying no, you’re wrong, and you’re too crazy for our party. Fast forward to 2008, right? Same thing happens. Remember the famous debate with Giuliani and McCain ganging up on Ron Paul?

HH: Yeah, but if you’re right about this, Ryan, and you develop the thesis, if you’re right about this, won’t that give 70% or more of the Republican Party pause that there would-be nominee is on a revenge mission?

RL: I think we’ll have to see how it plays out. This is why I said I think he owes almost everything he’s earned in politics to his dad. He admitted very forthrightly in an interview with me that there’s no way he would have won that Kentucky seat without the network his dad built.

HH: That’s true, but boy oh boy, it’s…

RL: Remember, he was not a player in Republican politics in Kentucky.

HH: No one has ever had to carry this burden in American politics before. I really think it’s unique that someone has had to say yeah…you know, Mitt Romney campaigned for his dad for president in 1966-’67, and no one went back and attributed to him bitterness at the defeat of George Romney, or the brainwashing incident. George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, no one attributed to George W. Bush bitterness over his dad being called a wimp. I mean, do you think it’s…

RL: Well, I think you know, there’s always been a dynamic that political reporters have written about between George W. Bush and his father.

HH: Oh, yeah, but there’s a dynamic there, and it’s interesting. But no one tries to make W. H.W., and no one tried to make Mitt George in the way that a lot of people are tempted to say Rand Paul is a much better presented Ron Paul.

RL: I think it’s because they both come out of a movement that has not been accepted in the Republican Party until more recently, right? And remember, when Ron Paul left the Republican Party in 1988, and ran as the Libertarian Party’s nominee, who was by his side for the whole campaign? Rand.

HH: Yeah, yeah, well, you make that point. And that’s, let me ask you before we run out of time the most interesting quote from Rand Paul, you always have a quote. You always have a sleeper. And it usually takes someone reading it closely to get it. Once it was leading from behind, Ryan Lizza. You are forever the leading from behind guy. But about Rand Paul, you write, “Most of the criticism of him has come from people who would have us involved in 15 wars right now.” The American people don’t want that. They’re closer to where I am.” Who in the world would have us involved in 15 wars right now? And is that not Nixonian in its understanding of his opponents?

RL: Oh, and he’s, look, and he’s very clearly talking about John McCain right there. There’s no doubt about it. and if you Google around 15 wars and John McCain, this is a sort of meme that he’s talking about McCain. And I think people have come up with that number.

HH: Did you press him on that, because that’s just not fair.

RL: I didn’t. I don’t think I did. I think to me, it was crystal clear who he was talking about there.

HH: But I mean, the 15 wars, what…

RL: Right…

HH: That doesn’t make any…

RL: That, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I think what he’s saying is if you closely inspect their statements over the last few years about where they would have American intervening, you know, you get close to that number.

HH: Wow.

RL: But I did not push him for the list. But let’s think about where it could be, right? Iraq, Syria, Iran…

HH: That’s it. Three.

RL: Well…

HH: You know, maybe we’d come to the aid of an ally if the PRC invaded Taiwan. You might get to four. And we’re not going into Ukraine. And maybe that’s five, or Georgia is six. But 15? I was thinking wow.

RL: Yeah.

HH: All right, last question, and this is, I find to be unusual. Al Cross, you quote…

RL: Yeah.

HH: …is a longtime Kentucky political columnist saying, “He’s not naturally gregarious, he’s not a natural politician.” Now before he stopped doing the show, I found him to be exceptionally able at interview and media management, I mean, very gifted. So I don’t know what he’s talking…is he talking about retail grab and shake, and grip and grin, and go on your way, because he’s awfully good on the air.

RL: Yeah, I think he reminds me a little bit of Obama in this sense where you know, a candidate who’s better in front of a crowd and sort of wholesale politics, but in retail 101 politics can be a little bit more reserved and introverted. You know, this comes up a lot when you talk to friends and people in Kentucky politics. They describe him, you know, he’s the manner of a surgeon. You ever have to have any surgery and deal with one of the surgeons who was really excited to attack the problem you had, but really wasn’t that interested in talking to you?

HH: Well, A) just like everyone I’ve ever met for like rotator cuff…

RL: Exactly.

HH: Except Sam Rubin. Dr. Rubin, if you’re listening, I’m sorry, I may have to come back to you sometime. He actually was very gregarious.

RL: And so an ophthalmologist is really, you know, my wife’s a family physician. She’s sort of on the other end of the spectrum of doctors.

HH: No, my favorite doctor growing up was the archetypal surgeon, you know, get out of my way, I’m going to cut you open now.

RL: Exactly. And you know, there’s a little bit of that in Rand. He’s a very smart guy. You know, you talk to friends from college, and the first thing everyone says is he was so smart. He’s smart, supremely confident in his beliefs, and I do believe, you might think this is sort of, you know, I’m being too much of an armchair psychoanalyst, but I do believe there’s this sense of, I hate to use the word, resentment about how the views of the Paul family have been treated by the mainstream of the Republicans.

HH: No, you leave that image of brooding, which I’ve never quite gotten. But let me close with this. A year from now, the Priebus reforms will kick in, and the first of eight to ten debates will be held. They’re going to be like two-tiered, like a Congressional committee hearing, there are going to be so many people on the stage, between 14 or 16 candidates. And some moderator, may it be me, sitting there, maybe you and me together.

RL: Oh, I’m really not looking forward to this.

HH: Yeah, but…

RL: And I say that, and I’m lying, because I’m looking very much forward to this, because it’s going to be a lot of fun to cover.

HH: Now I want Tapper with me and you. Those are the three guys I want to do this.

RL: Oh, I would do it. Make the case for that, Hugh.

HH: Oh, I already have. Priebus knows. But what, will Paul stand out in a winsome way? Or will he stand out in an unusual way in much the way his father did in those big debates?

RL: No, and I hope I didn’t leave that impression in that piece. He’s not his father. Politically, he’s much more sophisticated than his father. As Jesse Benton, who knows the two Pauls probably better than anyone says, his father believes, and I’m paraphrasing the quote, his father believes the point of politics was to make ideological points. Rand believes in winning. And Rand will change his beliefs if it will help him win. He believes in responding to the voters who you’re trying to woo. His father truly was guided by the view, this gets really technical, but you know, Ludwig von Mises…

HH: Yeah, no, we’re not going there to end this interview.

RL: He believed it was wrong to, he believed it was wrong for pressure groups to influence you in any way. And Rand doesn’t believe that. Rand thinks you know…

HH: That’s just fine.

RL: That’s how politics works.

HH: Another time when we have more time, I’m going to bring up to you your argument that he lived a New Deal-style central planning, since zoning’s been around since 1923.

RL: No, you know, email me about that. We can have a longer conversation. Lake Jackson was literally built by a relationship between big government and big business.

HH: It was. It was a fascinating little aside. Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker piece, The Revenge Of Rand Paul, linked at, thank you, Ryan.

RL: I always enjoy coming on. Thank you, Hugh.

HH: All right, be well.

End of interview.`


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