Here’s what Rand Paul did with his LollaPaulooza yesterday:
He engaged the country in a serious discussion of first principles. You may not agree with him, but he did it. The Constitution was actually discussed on the Senate floor for more than a dozen hours. Incredible.
He put the president on the defensive, using the force of argument to penetrate the White House’s standard operating procedure of never engaging its critics on a serious level. Eric Holder, the hapless AG, came away scorched.
Rand Paul also took an old, old device and married it to the new communications technology, instantly generating hundreds of thousands of messages about him and his argument which spread across the Twitterverse and associated platforms at an astonishing speed.
The Kentucky senator also accepted help from a key band of GOP senators who marked themselves out in the eyes of the millions of grassroots faithful who were watching very closely. These key senators –Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio, with assists from Saxby Chambliss, John Cornyn, Mark Kirk, Jerry Moran, Pat Toomey and the leader Mitch McConnell. It was a marker for many to have helped Rand Paul in his epic talkfest, and astonishing that some GOP senators were not alerted by their staffs to the event unfolding and its significance online.
Brietbart’s Larry O’Connor has a list of the GOP senators who were no-shows. I expect the message will get through to all but the oldest of the old bulls that the grassroots expects the Senate GOP to act as a team when one of its members takes on the president over a matter of principle, even if there is disagreement in their ranks.
Eight hours into the filibuster I spoke with RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who had already gotten the RNC online staffers into support mold, and who encouraged GOP support for what was an unexpected opening to move the public opinion ball on many fronts. (The transcript of my interview with Priebus is here. We also talk about his efforts to get control of the 2016 debate schedule now.) Priebus’ response was nimble and a demonstration of how the RNC must be ready at a moment’s notice to take advantage of openings in the wall of media flunkies surrounding the president.
Finally, Paul demonstrated that it is possible to use the very old rules of the Senate to effectively counter the nonsense — and the nominations — flowing out of the White House.
Some will now warn that it was a one-time event, that the novelty has already worn off and it cannot be repeated. That warning will come from the White House’s palace guard — think Politico and Buzzfeed — members of which in effect put up at a Bat Signal last night for lefty alums of Journ-o-list to rush online to disparage Paul when the Twitter tide rolled in behind the Kentucky senator just as it did to slice and dice Bob Woodward the week before.
But while such events cannot be a weekly thing, the use of the filibuster and the audience it brings if married to a real issue with real substance, and if done with the support of a handful of talented orators as Paul had around him last night, could become a powerful weapon in the messaging wars. Senators Cruz, Lee, and Rubio are the sort of skilled talkers that the other side does not have and which we should hope take full use of their floor privileges.
More opportunities will arise. Look down the road, for instance, to the nomination battle over Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA. The EPA has been in key respects a lawless agency for her entire tenure there. If her nomination survives committee hearings and then gets past cloture, the stage will be set for another “teach-in-by-filibuster.” More such opportunities will arise, and the GOP ought not to be shy in using them.
Senator Paul changed quite a few things yesterday, all for the good.