Mention his name to most Washington, D.C., insiders and plenty of his GOP colleagues, and you will hear everything from "frustrating" to "crazy." But Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky might be just conventionally unconventional enough to stun his party and the nation in 2016.
A cleverly written op-ed piece in The New York Times had the unintended effect of convincing me that Paul may well be both the GOP Establishment and left-of-center Democrats' worst nightmare.
In his Times piece, columnist Frank Bruni does a very good job of reciting what he considers fatal past remarks by Paul. And I must admit, at first blush he makes a convincing case. He jabs at Paul's verbal "erroneous" assault on the Clean Water Act's impact on toilets, as well as Paul's irritation with the "nanny state" and its seat belt laws.
OK, I get it. Rand Paul is a nut who would destroy the GOP were he to win his party's nomination in 2016. But the column began to lose just a little credibility when Bruni ended it with numerous comparisons to cooking and food. That reminded me that this columnist is likely no political expert. Instead, he is a gifted journalist whose accomplishments range from books that jab at George W. Bush and the Catholic Church to a stint as the paper's chief restaurant critic.
That said, let's consider a more "in the trenches" look at Paul. He is indeed a man riddled with seemingly contradictory statements and positions. And he will forever carry the surname of Paul, as in Ron Paul, as in the seemingly curmudgeon-type presidential candidate. The guy who would always make so much sense in GOP primary debates until he took things one step too far and seemed -- well, a little too out there.
But to assess any son in light of his father is usually a huge error. The big picture with regard to the son is that he has captured the "less government" essence of the father, but mixed it with the more pragmatic side of practical politics.
If any left-of-center types think Paul's recent filibuster in the Senate, the essence of which questioned the use of drones, is somehow unpopular with the public, they are completely out of touch. Most Americans don't even understand what a drone is or how it operates, but when they do learn, they start to worry about a proliferation of them and an invasion of their own privacy and safety by them.
On the other hand, conservatives or Republicans who think Paul's support of a pathway to citizenship or at least residency for undocumented immigrants is somehow off-base should think again. The position is not only realistic, but it reflects the views of the GOP's most beloved leader, Ronald Reagan, and it has earned kudos from national leaders of the tea party movement.
Oh, sure, there is plenty of fodder for those who want to place Rand Paul and his past comments under the microscope. Particularly troubling are comments made several years ago with respect to the Civil Rights Act and his belief that portions of it impose requirements and law that should have instead been dealt with through the marketplace and free enterprise. But even on this rather sticky point, Paul's heart seems in the right place -- abhorring racism and declaring that he would have marched with Dr. King had he been old enough to do so.
Oh, yes, the man is a riddle and an enigma. And those past statements certainly will give the media a field day should he seek the presidency.
But one must ask why that should be the case. It seems that comments aimed at sharing wealth, explaining why he smoked pot, if he knew of the racist sermons by his pastor or just about anything in Barack Obama's past before he became president received little attention by reporters and columnists.
I'll admit Paul would be a long shot in any effort to capture the GOP nomination, much less the presidency. The Republican Establishment would beat him to a bloody pulp, and if he survived, the Democrats and media would take their turn.
But Paul seems to be just savvy, gutsy and flat courageous enough to perhaps withstand it all. Reagan had to live down some pretty goofy past statements and a few out-of-step prior positions before he rolled over everyone in his way and won the presidency.
Or maybe I'm just critiquing Washington's newest political dish and flavor of the month.