Looking back to the Republican rout of Bill Clinton and the Democrats in 1994, Clinton looked like he was a goner in 1996, plaintively remarking at a press conference in early 1995 that “I’m still relevant.” It is clear that Bill Clinton’s comeback began with the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, which enabled him to deploy his best “I feel your pain” schtick, and to demagogue conservative talk radio. It was an amazingly opportunistic performance, but it worked to turn around his sagging fortunes.
Something of the same dynamic may have taken place yesterday for Republicans with Rand Paul’s theatrical, old-school filibuster conducted in the age of new-school social media and a 24/7 news cycle. Coming only a few days after Obama’s inverse “relevant” flop (“I’m not a dictator”), Senator Paul pointed out how Obama (or a future president) might in fact wish to behave like a dictator, even if the claim was thin. It “changed the narrative,” as the postmodernists like to say. It caught Democrats flat-footed, and the media by surprise. Democrats were totally AWOL on the Senate floor, except for Sen. Ron Wyden, who sympathizes with Sen. Paul. (Needless to say, if President Bush made as extensive use of drones as Obama is doing, the Left would be rending every garment and staging hunger strikes.)
Even better, as our Paul Mirengoff noted, it exposed the weary, used-up quality of the GOP old guard in the Senate. This also reminds me of how the “young turks” in the House (especially Newt but also Jack Kemp) in the late 1970s and early 1980s began to turn out the old “go-along,” Stockholm-syndrome Republicans of the time. The dynamic yesterday and today between McCain and Graham, and Paul-Rubio-Cruz-Lee and Toomey shows whose time is up, and whose time is coming.
I’m not sold on Rand Paul, but mark your calendar: yesterday was a turning point. And it may have just elevated Rand Paul to the top tier of GOP candidates for 2016.