Good morning Austin:
I was leaving my house yesterday to go cover Rand Paul. I was wearing jeans, a black linen jacket and a blue, button-down shirt. But, as I walked out the door, I checked myself and thought, `Wait, I am going to cover Rand Paul on a Sunday afternoon, I should dress cooler than this; I should dress more like Rand Paul.”
So I went back in the house, took off my button-down shirt, put on a white t-shirt, put my linen jacket back on and headed off to the first of two Rand Paul appearances I would cover – this a launch of Liberty Action Texas, a new project of the Young Americans for Liberty Foundation, dedicated to identifying and training a “new generation of liberty leaders in Texas,” held at a 15th floor outside terrace on Congress Avenue a couple of blocks from the Capitol.
Man, was I glad I did. There were probably about 150 people on the terrace to hear Paul, but no two people were dressed more alike than the two us. We looked cool.
OK. Rand Paul looked cooler. There were the sunglasses. And the nonchalant demeanor. And he’s Rand Paul, who, I think, whatever else you think of him, has to be considered the coolest guy in the Republican field. Right?
Let’s go through it.
Jeb Bush. Not especially cool.
Scott Walker. Don’t know enough about him to properly evaluate his coolness quotient, but I’m skeptical and Wisconsin doesn’t strike me as a birthplace of cool. Minnesota, yes. Robert Zimmerman. But Wisconsin, I don’t think so.
Mike Huckabee? Campy cool maybe, like Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, but that’s not the same thing.
Chris Christie. Too hot to be cool.
Rick Perry. Too Boy Scout to be cool.
Ben Carson. Maybe, but not quite.
Bobby Jindal. Just not cool.
Marco Rubio is cool, but he is good boy cool while Rand Paul is bad boy cool, and bad boy cool is cooler than good boy cool.
Ted Cruz. The reason that SABO’s tatted Cruz worked so well is because it played against type. Cruz is the nerdy/brainiac type.
Smartest guy in the room. He may have been cool at Princeton and Harvard, where having memorized the Constitution, and being able to deliver all the parts in a scene from The Princess Bride, or do a spot-on imitation of Scotty from Star Trek is considered cool, but that’s not actually cool.
And Cruz never dresses as cool as Rand and I do.
From Jeffrey Toobin’s piece The Absolutist
Cruz is conservative in appearance as well as ideology. He dresses like an I.B.M. salesman circa 1975, in boxy blue suits, white shirts, and red ties. His black hair is just long enough to be slicked back.
Slicked back. Not cool.
President Obama is cool, was very cool, still is pretty cool. Both postmodern cool and Rat Pack cool. His cool, I think, had a lot to do with his success with younger voters. He seemed authentic, less like some robotic politician. And being the first black president – that’s just plain cool.
Hillary Clinton. For better or worse, she is married to the king of cool. But I’m afraid she is, at best, mom jeans cool.
Meanwhile, whatever its merits, libertarianism is a philosophy of cool, with special appeal to young people who are at a stage of life when individual liberty and free expression are paramount.
Here’s Paul at the Liberty Action Texas event:
The liberty movement brings right and left together in an extraordinary way. I sometimes call this the “leave-me-alone coalition.” You can be a liberal, you can be a conservative, you can be an evangelical Christian or a pot-smoking Austinite.
That drew a rise from the young crowd.
One of the things I think that conservatives haven’t done such a great job on is we think the Bill of Rights is just the Second Amendment, and I’m a proud defender of the Second Amendment, so don’t come into my house tonight because I’m waiting for you.
But we’ve got to defend the whole Bill of Rights, and I think there’s so much more in the Bill of Rights that we’ve forgotten about; there’s so much in the Bill of Rights that may appeal and may attract people who haven’t been coming to traditionally conservative causes.
Paul cited the case of Jacob Lavoro, the young Round Rock man who last year faced a potential life sentence for possession of pot brownies (he ultimately was placed on probation) as an example of a haywire justice system.
I’m not saying it’s fine to have marijuana brownies, I’m sort of reserving judgment on this, probably not a good idea, but the thing is, life imprisonment? You can kill somebody in Kentucky and be eligible for parole in 12 years, but marijuana brownies, we’re going to put some people in jail for life?
Timothy Tyler was a dead head – everybody knows what this means – he followed The Dead and probably used LSD. He did use LSD. He was caught with LSD when he was 23. He’s now 46. He’s now in prison. He will spend the rest of his life in prison for LSD. That’s absurd.
Paul said it is important to recognize that, “the Bill of Rights is not something for the privileged.”
It’s specifically for those who are not privileged, it’s specifically for those who aren’t popular. I tell people that the Bill of Rights is not for the prom queen, it’s not for the high school quarterback, although it is for them too. But that’s not what it’s intended for. It’s intended for the people who look different, act different. I tell people, you can be a minority because of the color of your skin or the shade of your ideology. There’s a lot of reasons you can be a minority, but the Bill of Rights defends minorities.”
And, he said:
There are racial disparities to this as well. Four out of five people in prison are black or brown because it’s d poverty that’s allowed this to happen. We have allowed the war on drugs to wind up with a racial outcome.
A few days ago, Paul talked about criminal justice reform (albeit in shirt and tie) at Bowie State University, the oldest historically black college in Maryland.
Following his terrace appearance Sunday, Paul was over at South by Southwest for a good conversation with Evan Smith, editor-in-chief and CEO of the Texas Tribune.
Noting that it was 50 years to the day since LBJ’s historic speech to Congress on the Voting Rights Act, Smith pressed Paul on his view of the future of the act.
“I will vote for it but we have to be very careful how we write the law,” Paul said.
But, he noted, “in the last election, African Americans voted at a higher percentage than whites did in Mississippi,” and that, in fact, in many states that is the case. Today, he said, the biggest impediment to black voting are the residual effect of felony convictions that in many jurisdiction cost individual their voting rights forever.
He said that is wrong and that he is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, “to restore federal voting rights for non-violent criminals who have served their time.”
This is significant and, if enacted, would clearly hurt Republican electoral prospects. I don’t think it can be viewed as simply a rhetorical dodge.
In August of 2000 I wrote:
A new analysis by two sociologists from Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota concludes that, were it not for disenfranchised felons, the Democrats would still have control of the U.S. Senate, and if current felon disenfranchisement rates had existed in 1960, Richard Nixon would have defeated John F. Kennedy.
“If the Bush-Gore election turns out to be as close as the Kennedy-Nixon election, and Bush squeaks through, we may be able to attribute that to felon disenfranchisement,” said Jeff Manza, the Northwestern sociologist.
He did, and Manza, now at NYU, and collaborator Christopher Uggen, at the University of Minnesota, did, writing in 2002 in the American Sociological Review:
Coinciding with Rand Paul’s trip, here’s the a playlist of songs by bands that are playing in Austin that remind us of Rand. Listen to it.
1. Considering Rand Paul voiced his support for those who marched at Selma (without going himself), but also said that a response to the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act wasn’t needed: ”Hypocrite” — Twerps (Playing at the Hotel Vegas Patio on Friday 3/20 at 9:10 PM)
2. Given Rand’s pretty ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ approach to vaccinating children: “Vaccine” — Mew (Playing at Red 7 on Wednesday, March 18th)
3. Because Rand’s budget proposals would give the wealthy a big break by eliminating taxes on capital gains: “I Love You Money” – Lowell (Playing at the Swan Dive Patio on Saturday 3/21 at 9:25 PM)
5. Because Rand’s youth appeal has never actually been real: “The Myth of Youth” – Geographer (Playing at Blackheart on Friday, 3/20 at 12 AM)
7. Because the only person who agrees with present Rand Paul less than most Americans is past Rand Paul: “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” — Nuns (Playing at 720 Club Patio on Thursday 3/19 at 8 PM)
And then, also from the DNC:
The Myth of the Rand Paul Youth Meme
To: Interested Parties:
FROM: Rob Flaherty, DNC Director of Digital Media
SUBJ: The Myth of the Rand Paul Youth Meme
Rand Paul, self-appointed Republican millennial whisperer, is at South by Southwest this weekend, in yet another attempt to make himself relevant to young people. But here’s the reality: it’s all smoke and mirrors. Among the greatest myths in politics right now is the notion that Rand Paul has any kind of special appeal to young people.
Let’s start with the polling.
Rand has never been really popular with young voters in any kind of quantifiable way. Harry Enten wrote about this trend in August of last year:
“The median of the eight surveys shows that among young voters, Paul trails by 17 percentage points more than he trails among all voters. That would represent a slight improvement over Romney, who lost young voters by nearly 20 points more than he did voters overall. Still, Paul’s and Romney’s relative performances with young voters are within the margin of error of each other.
In polling since, the trend has only continued. Last month, Fusion’s poll showed that he wasn’t even the most popular candidate among young Republicans, which was confirmed by Public Policy Polling. And the Washington Post’s most recent polling found that Rand would lose a hypothetical match up with a Democrat by nearly 30 points among 18-39 year olds.
Why this gap? Because his positions on many other issues that matter to young people show that he’s completely out of touch.
On Climate Change:
Rand: ”In his speech, he denounced cap-and-trade regulations, called the EPA ‘an out-of-control regulatory agency’ and said ‘we must stop these fanatics’ who advocate government action to combat global warming.”
Young People: Two-thirds of young adults (aged 18 to 34) say they’re inclined to vote for a political candidate who supports cutting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing financial incentives for renewable energy, according to an online poll of 2,105 U.S. residents by the University of Texas at Austin. In contrast, just half of seniors (aged 65 or older) say they would lend such support.
On Student Loans:
Rand: “Paul said there’s a ‘danger’ with the government ‘overturning contracts’ [by refinancing student loans]…”
Rand: “Paul has said he opposes spending on programs such as farm subsidies and federal grants to college students…”
Young People: 54% believe that Government has a responsibility to guarantee a college education.
Young People: Four in 10 members of the millennial generation said they felt overwhelmed by debt, with more than half reporting they were living paycheck to paycheck, according to poll results released Tuesday.
On Equal Pay:
Rand:“Rand Paul Compares Paycheck Fairness to Soviet Politburo”
Young People: 63% of voters under 50 support the Paycheck Fairness act.
Rand:“This week, Senator Rand Paul will join Senator Roger Wicker as an original sponsor of the Life at Conception Act. This legislation declares that the unborn are persons, as prescribed in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution…By following the powers offered to Congress in the Constitution, passage of the Life at Conception Act would reverse Roe v. Wade without the need for a constitutional amendment.”
Young People: Sixty-one percent of young people think abortion should be generally legal.
On Net Neutrality:
Rand: “Sen. Rand Paul today joined 39 fellow Republican Senators in co-sponsoring a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal net neutrality regulations recently adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).”
Young People: 81% of 18-24 year olds and 78% of 25-34 year olds oppose paid prioritization
On Marriage Equality:
Rand: When Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier asked Paul about his position on same-sex marriage, the senator responded, “I’m for traditional marriage. I think marriage is between a man and a woman. Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people.”
Young People: Nearly 7 in 10 millennials favor legalizing same sex marriage, including a majority of Republican millennials.
Millennials certainly have a different political dynamic than previous generations. While they are the most liberal generation, they’re also increasingly skeptical of party affiliations. They don’t care about ideological posturing (Hi Rand), but do care about solutions to the problems they face. In the current political landscape, they are best looked at as independents with liberal values. Perhaps this is a departure from previous generations, but this doesn’t mean, for example, that they’re suddenly becoming swing voters, or that there has been some kind of libertarian awakening.
Millennials know that Democrats are the ones who are solution-oriented, who understand the issues they face and who will fight for them, and that on issue after issue Republicans are out of touch and out of bounds. Rand Paul is the same kind of Tea Partier young people have rejected time and time again, and if he’s the best they have on millennial outreach, then they have a serious problem.
Well, that’s all well and good, but at 2:53 this morning, I received this from Richard Morgan, state chairman of Texas Young Republicans.
The Texas Young Republican Federation has completed our 2015 Social Issues Policy Survey including our first 2016 Republican Presidential Straw Poll. We presented a list of 18 potential Republican candidates and asked respondents to indicate each of the candidates they would like to see as the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. We received 504 responses from Republicans in Texas age 40 or under, including 101 responses from active dues-paying members of our organization.
Among Republicans age 40 or under, Senator Rand Paul took first with support from 50.6% of respondents. Senator Ted Cruz came in second with 41.9% support, and Governor Scott Walker came in third with 35.9%. Additional candidates who performed well include former Governor Rick Perry at 26.4%, Ben Carson at 22.8%, Senator Marco Rubio at 18.7%, former Governor Jeb Bush as 18.5%, and Governor Bobby Jindal at 18.1%.
Among the 101 active dues-paying members of the Texas Young Republican Federation who took the straw poll, the results were more pronounced with Senator Rand Paul commanding 68.3% support, followed by Governor Scott Walker with 58.4% support, and Senator Ted Cruz with 33.7% support. Additional candidates who performed well include Senator Marco Rubio at 25.7%, former Governor Jeb Bush at 25.7%, former Governor Rick Perry at 24.8%, and Governor Bobby Jindal at 23.8%.
The Texas Young Republican Federation is an auxiliary of the Republican Party of Texas and exists to grow the Republican Party of Texas with Republicans between the ages of 18 and 40.
Take that DNC.
And, even more significantly, take that Ted Cruz, who had no doubt counted Harris, like Kania, as in his fold before they defected to Paul.
“I wouldn’t have left Sen. Cruz to go to work for Sen. Paul unless Sen. Paul was a huge believer, as he is, in digital, and unless he was going to put the amount of resources into his organization that are necessary to run a digital tech operation,” Harris said in the Feb. 18 interview with Jeff Zeleny from ABC News.
More Harris on fellow Baylor Bear Paul:
We live in a 24-second news cycle. You can’t wait 24 hours to get something out. If something’s breaking, we’ve got to get it out. We need to insert ourselves. Sen Paul is a big believer in inserting ourselves into the news story. Insert yourself and your message and your brand into the conversation that is happening.
For more on Harris, read this fantastic October 2014 Bloomberg piece by Steve Friess, The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet, which help to put in perspective just what a coup it was for Paul to steal Harris from Cruz.
Vincent Harris’s digital talents helped put Ted Cruz on the map (and his lambasting of the Romney campaign made him enemies). Now he’s embarked on his toughest challenge—making Mitch McConnell cool.
Vincent Harris, 26-year-old GOP digital savant, wheels his black 2014 BMW 381 away from the curb of my Austin hotel, Lana Del Ray blasting on the stereo. We’re on our way from Austin to Waco so he can teach a political science class at Baylor University—his alma mater—and he’s explaining the complexities of his personality, the ones that have made him a very rare creature, both coveted and controversial, in the Republican universe. He made his name by making Ted Cruz’s name in his longest-of-long-shots 2012 Senate primary race, as well as by working for a passel of other well-known conservative GOPers. But he presents as a well-heeled Austin hipster, and some of the things that come out of his mouth—he can’t stand Fox News, for instance—make him seem almost … Democratic. Now Harris is involved in the seemingly oxymoronic activity of coolifying Mitch McConnell. Along the way, he’s issued some very public critiques of the way the rest of the GOP relates to tech, and to millennials.
Harris formed his consultancy, Harris Media, in his dorm room in 2008, and managed the web and social media operations during the 2010 cycle for Allen West, Rick Scott, and Linda McMahon, but it was his decision to work for Ted Cruz in early 2011 that vaulted him to a new level.
At the time, Cruz was an obscure, Tea Party-inspired corporate lawyer with little money and no name recognition, plotting a run for the GOP nomination to fill the seat being vacated by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The presumed nominee was Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, an establishment figure whom Cruz saw as insufficiently conservative.
Cruz’s campaign manager, John Drogin, knew Harris from some digital work he’d done for the cakewalk 2010 re-election of Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas. Drogin brought Harris to meet Cruz at the 2011 CPAC convention in Washington, D.C. The candidate, himself only 40 and digitally savvy, “got it immediately,” Harris says. “He just trusted me.”
Harris had Cruz announce his run for the Senate first on a conference call with Texas bloggers, then to the world via Twitter, a departure from the standard-issue news conference in front of a house or government building. Next, Cruz held weekly calls with supportive bloggers and hired two full-time staffers to focus on creating social media content. Tweets, Facebook posts, and emails received personal replies. A microsite, cruzcrew.org, empowered volunteers to take on tasks and print out campaign literature. Targeted Facebook and Google ads tied to specific web searches or Facebook “likes” helped build an email list of active Tea Party-leaning voters.
By July 2012, when Cruz beat Dewhurst in a runoff, his campaign e-mail list and social media followings were “bigger than most of the failed Republican candidates for president,” Harris says.
“This campaign was unique because digital wasn’t done to check off a box. Digital led,” says Harris, until fundraising made TV advertising possible. “I was on every call. I got all the access I ever needed. I can’t recall ever getting turned down for a budget request.”
From there, Harris’s reputation soared—which positioned him perfectly to be the GOP’s digital Cassandra, telling uncomfortable truths about the Romney campaign’s operations and the RNC’s blindness to the need to improve its data game. “They have no idea what they’re doing,” he told me that summer. “And they don’t even know what they don’t know.”
If Harris weren’t so well-known as a conservative digital whisperer, it would be easy for his Baylor students not to know where Harris is coming from politically or even—gasp!—think him liberal.
At some point earlier in the term, for instance, he had offered a thought-provoking notion about the criminal justice system: Florida wouldn’t be a swing state—it’d be solidly Democratic, he figures—if the 1.5 million residents disenfranchised by criminal convictions could vote.
But then there’s more momentous stuff. Take DewFeed, which a British newspaper called the first political attack ad animated by cat gifs. In August 2013, trying to build support for Texas State Senator Dan Patrick as Patrick aimed to knock off David Dewhurst, still the lieutenant governor, in the GOP primary, Harris conjured up the idea of a BuzzFeed spoof that used the Internet’s most popular animal diversions to castigate Dewhurst for not stopping State Senator Wendy Davis’ legendary filibuster against an anti-abortion measure. Patrick, who was initially nervous about whether such an approach would diminish him, was persuaded by Harris to take a gamble that ended up drawing copious press coverage and more than doubled his social media following.
“When he laid that out last August, I didn’t know what BuzzFeed was, I didn’t know what a gif was,” says Patrick, 64. “DewFeed was one of many things we did over the last 14 months. It wasn’t a game changer. It didn’t decide the election. Did it help? I think so. It’s hard to know.”
Of course, Harris was also responsible for the most famous mistweet of the Patrick campaign.
He wrote about it here.
One man + One mistake: How a Twitter error ended up on Jimmy Fallon and what I learned about being slow to anger.
Last February I was in my office in Austin when a judicial ruling was announced striking down the gay marriage ban in Texas. I quickly hopped on Twitter and worked up a tweet on behalf of State Senator Dan Patrick who was running for Lieutenant Governor. The tweet was supposed to reinforce his long held position in support of traditional marriage. To my detriment, I was working too fast though and trying to multi task. Five minutes later I got a call from one of the Senator’s staff, that the tweet I had sent accidentally contained a mistake. A big mistake.
Instead of tweeting, as Dan Patrick, that MARRIAGE= ONE MAN & ONE WOMAN, he tweeted, MARRIAGE= ONE MAN & ONE MAN.
Oops, Patrick (or I guess Harris as Patrick), subsequently tweeted, We have a new job opening on our campaign: social media intern.
While some other staff and I tried to make light of the mistake, the tweet began to go viral. Eeek. It went from 100 RTs to 200 to 300 to over 1,000. News reporters and bloggers around the country took note, and after doing what I could, it was time to pick up the phone and fess up to Senator Patrick for my mistake. Although I had been working for the Senator for a year, there had never been a digital error that had attracted as much attention. After sharing what had happened, the Senator was gracious, kind, and forgiving. He was calm, understanding, and trusted that I would do what was necessary to try and move the issue along.
Although the next night, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and even Conan O’Brien all had skits on late night television about the tweet (causing me to cringe even more)…Senator Patrick laughed it off. He is a class act, a wonderful Christian leader, and a great mentor. I am grateful for the reaction of Senator Patrick that day. He knew that yelling at me would not fix the issue that had already been created. By being slow to anger, the now Lieutenant Governor made me want to work even harder the last months of the campaign because he had treated me with such respect. How he treated me that day, despite every reason in the world to get upset, angry, and frustrated, is an example I will never forget.
Meanwhile, here is Rachel Kania, who before she worked for Cruz was national volunteer director on Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Finally, this is Michael Goldstein, who graduated last year from the University of Texas. I met him last April when he attended a lecture that Charles Murray delivered at UT that I covered.
He thinks a lot about Bitcoin.
I remade Goldstein’s acquaintance Sunday at the Liberty Action Texas event. He had just run into Rand Paul downstairs at the high-rise where it was held, and said he had asked the senator, “Are you here for the Rand Paul event?” Paul replied that he was, and laughed.
But – and here is the peril for Paul – libertarians can be a quirky lot. Even though he was attending the event and would seem to have, in Paul, a candidate of a similar libertarian bent, Goldstein said he probably wouldn’t vote, because the time required to adequately evaluate the field of candidates was too great to be logically worthwhile. And, he said, his quick interaction with Paul before the event, was probably more valuable than anything he might achieve with his vote.
On Saturday I covered a reception that Gov. Greg Abbott had for tech entrepreneurs, CEO’s and venture capitalists at the Governor’s Mansion. Afterward, I walked over to the Capitol to take advantage of the Capitol wi-fi, sat down on a bench near the South Steps, and wrote my story. As I was finished, a photographer approached, and said she had taken a photo of the Capitol with me silhouetted in the foreground. She took my email address, and said she would send me a copy. She did
Her name is Katrin Eismann, and this may be the best photo ever taken of me.