Ever since losing the presidential election, the right has been consumed by envy of President Obama — of his mobilization of key voters, his digital strategy, his ability to successfully shift blame to Republicans and the way he is able to seemingly exploit every crisis for his political advantage. My colleague Tim Carney has a good post explaining what Rand Paul accomplished with his 12-hour plus filibuster. But I also wonder if this could be seen as the moment where post-election conservative envy of Obama subsides, and they begin to see him as vulnerable again.
A lot of the outpouring of conservative support for Paul’s filibuster on Obama’s drone policy went beyond the libertarian and anti-interventionist blocs of the movement who were also deeply troubled by Bush era counter-terrorism policies. Even those conservatives who may not agree with all of Paul’s views on presidential war powers were supportive if for no other reason than they relished seeing a conservative win a messaging war with Obama. It was impossible to dismiss this as just a right-wing Tea Party attack, because a lot of liberals agree with the substance of Paul’s criticism. This filibuster had to get under Obama’s skin. As much as anything else, he was elected on a promise to turn the page on the Bush era and conduct the war against terrorism with greater concern for civil liberties. Watching Paul’s filibuster last night, I couldn’t help but think that this is how Obama imagines himself – a principled crusader for justice. When Bush and Cheney were running the show, whatever could be said about them, at least they were consistent in supporting broad presidential powers in the realm of national security. But it’s hard to look back at the pre-2009 Obama and see him as anything other than an arrogant hypocrite now — somebody who thinks a muscular executive branch is okay so long as he’s running it.
The filibuster also worked because Paul had credibility. Were it led by an older Republican Senator who had been around during the Bush administration, it would have smacked of political opportunism. Though this will boost Paul’s national political profile, nobody would deny that he’s been consistent. Also, for all the post-election discussions about the demise of the Republican Party, the filibuster also showed how it could have a bright future. Watching stars like Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio help out Paul showed that the GOP’s got talent.
Republicans obviously have a long way to go. But taken together with the emerging sense that Obama overplayed his hand on the sequester, things are looking much brighter than they were in January. And Paul’s filibuster is probably the most galvanizing moment for conservatives since the election.