During CPAC, I had the tremendous opportunity to interview Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in his office at the Capitol. The conversation lasted about fifteen minutes, during which we discussed topics such as social media and youth outreach, as well as money’s pervasive role in the political process. Senator Paul was extremely gracious with his time, and I greatly appreciate his willingness to speak with TheCollegeConservative about issues that will become even more important as 2016 approaches. Below is the full transcript of the interview.
Bethany Bowra (Me): Obviously money plays a really big role in politics for a lot of different reasons, so do you think that money’s large role is causing some young people to become disenfranchised with the entire process? If that is causing more apathy, how do we make sure that young people’s voices are still incorporated ?
Rand Paul: You know, maybe, but I would say that there’s so many venues to get your message out now, and some of them are virtually free like the internet. We have some kids who volunteer for us that just want to be a blogger for us. They’re getting in comments sections, or they submit to different websites that take blogs, so I think there’s actually an opportunity whether you have any money or not. The other thing is, in primaries, particularly for state representative or state senator, if you volunteer for a campaign and there’s like ten people volunteering at the beginning of a campaign– you know, it’s hard to get people interested. I think that people respect those people who volunteered and worked on a campaign. That’s how a lot of young people get involved– they get someone elected.
As far as money corrupting the process, I think money is the same as speech in a way, so I don’t think that I want to limit money in this sense: The New York Times has a big newspaper that costs them billions of dollars to run daily, and they have a voice because they spend that money. Should we want to limit somebody who wants to buy an ad in the New York Times i.e., how many ads they can buy? I’m not really for limitations. The only limitation I would consider would be that people who get a government contract shouldn’t be using part of that contract to lobby for the next contract. There is kind of a sort of vicious cycle for special interests that maybe we could come up with some limitations on. But you have to be careful; the courts struck down most of these because of free speech, saying that political speech is free speech. One way I’ve thought of that you might be able to have a limitation would be to have it in a federal contract. So if you get a billion dollar contract from the government, a clause in there might just say, “Because I’ve got this contract from the government, now I’m gonna limit my campaign activities as far as money or other things you do that influence politics.”
BB: So there still is a way for young people to get around the money issue.
RP: I think so. I think particularly the internet and more venues, you know, probably much more so than when I was a kid and there were three networks.
BB: I know you’re very active on social media. You did an interview on Snapchat (which I thought was really cool!) and you used Twitter for the “liberty footballs” during the Superbowl– different things like that, and there aren’t that many people actually doing that. Is a social media presence necessary and how can we utilize it better than we have in the past?
RP: I have three teenage boys… and I don’t think they ever watch FOX News. But they watch the replay of something that one of their friends sends to them on their phone, so they’re getting little snippets. But they will, depending on whose Twitter they get on or who they get interested in or what Facebook feed they’re seeing, they will end up seeing some of the things that they’re not necessarily getting from FOX News. A lot of it comes from comedy. If Jimmy Kimmel did a routine on it, half the kids in America might have seen it. This is hard for conservatives, because we don’t have as much access– comedians tend to lean a little bit the other way, although they make fun of everybody. We’ve also been on some of the shows. I’ve been on John Stewart’s show, I’ve been on with John Oliver, [David] Letterman, Bill Maher, things like that to try to get to audiences that don’t necessarily watch FOX News.
BB: It seems like a lot of college students have a very tainted view of conservatism– just the way that it is portrayed. They don’t really appreciate what it is and don’t understand it. Is there a better way that we can specifically try to portray it?
RP: Well, there’s one group called the “liberty movement.” There’s another group called “Young Americans for Liberty.” Basically, when you’re for liberty, it’s less that you’re for telling people “you can’t do this” and “you can’t do that.” You know, kids are already getting away from home, they’re already rebelling a little bit, they’ve been under the thumb of their parents and they want to kind of do their own thing– they want to be adults. And I think that search and yearn for freedom leads them to think “oh, conservatism is just my parents telling me what to do” or the government telling them what to do. But I think that if the conservative movement, which I am a part of but I’m also a part of the liberty movement, if we were offering people freedom… so, when I talk to people, particularly in college, whether they’re conservative-college or liberty-college or Berkeley, I tell them the same thing: I want the government to leave them alone. The government shouldn’t look at your cell phone. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking at– you might be looking at Bible verses on your cell phone– but the government’s got no business looking at what you’re reading on your cell phone unless they have probable cause, unless they have your name on a warrant saying “we want to look at your cell phone because we think you’re doing something, and this is our evidence” and the judge says yes. I’m very offended by the whole dragnet, that we’re collecting all the phone records. I think that also appeals to young people. It doesn’t seem necessarily as conservative, but it’s a belief in a small government– a government run by law, run by constitution. It’s just a different analysis than some conservatives, who say, “you can look at whatever you want, I don’t care.” But I think most young people are averse to that.
BB: A lot of it has to do with the wording, then. How you share it.
RP: Some of it, but also some of the issues. I think that the idea of whether there’s a right to privacy, you know, whether you have a right to be left alone, I think is a bigger issue for young people than taxes. Young people don’t earn anything, so they don’t have taxes, so I don’t think they’re that concerned with the tax rate. Are they that concerned with regulations. Indirectly you should be, because when you get a job, or whether you succeed in life, if your taxes are too high or regulations are too onerous, it’s less likely that you get a job. I think kids see more directly: “It’s my cell phone.” So it’s trying to find the issues that resonate with people where they are in their lives.
BB: What issue do you think young people, specifically college students, should care about the most?
RP: I think privacy’s a big one, you know, their cell phones… student loans, getting a job as they get farther along. I think on all of those issues, though, we have a chance to bring young people to the Republican Party by finding them where they are and not trying to hit them with stuff that they don’t think is a big deal for them at that time in their lives.
It was an incredible honor to be able to interview the Senator just weeks ahead of his expected announcement of a presidential campaign. Regardless of your personal preferences in the 2016 field, one cannot help but recognize that Senator Rand Paul has the best grasp on how to reach out to young people on their level and in ways that they will respond to.
If any other 2016 contenders want to compete for this demographic, they are going to have to take a page from his playbook and mimic his actions in youth outreach.
(As a side-note, I would also like to specially acknowledge Senator Paul’s staff in his Washington office. Not only are they incredibly efficient, but they’re some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.)