There's a story in The Washington Post today about Rand Paul's trip to Guatemala to do eye surgery for indigent patients. Although the story notes the partly self-serving nature of the trip -- Paul is accompanied by, among others, his top political aide, David Bossie of Citizens United, two politcal admakers, and someone obtaining releases so that Paul can later use footage of the Guatemalans for (presumably) electoral ends -- it's largely a positive write-up. Paul Waldman responds by describing the senator as a "press management wizard":
How does Rand Paul do it? He's not someone who can give a speech that'll make you cry, like Barack Obama can, and he's not someone who lights up a room like Bill Clinton. He's never written a law, let alone an important one that improved people's lives. Nobody thinks he's some kind of super-genius.... And yet he gets way more attention than anybody else running for president.... So how does he do it?Except that it's not particularly hard to come up with things to fill up news pages this August. ISIS? Ebola? Ferguson? I'd say it's quite a newsy summer. So that's not it.
... in the end, just because this is a story about Rand Paul doing charitable work on his August vacation, the reader unavoidably comes away thinking, "Isn't that Rand Paul a nice fellow?"
This is yet another demonstration of just how good Paul is at working the press. As the article says, this trip was planned months ago, and it's convenient ... because that's when congressional reporters have nothing else to write about. It can be hard to come up with things to fill your news pages about in August.
I don't think Paul is a "press management wizard." Yes, he gets good press, even when he's not doing charitable work. But there's a simple reason for that: He's a Republican, and he sometimes seems like a non-traditional Republican. The mainstream press is desperate for a Republican to love.
The press hates President Obama now, and is sick of the Clintons. The press regards Joe Biden as a joke and thinks the alleged Democratic up-and-comers (O'Malley, Castro, Gillibrand) are nonentities. Eliabeth Warren is okay, but she's a favorite of (ick!) ideologically committed progressives. Plus, she's an old lady! So there's a limit to her appeal to the boys on the bus. (The press is interested in her only to the extent that she might vanquish an even older lady, Hillary Clinton.) The boys fell for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama when they were young and had New Democrat bro appeal, but those days are long gone.
The political press really, really wants to love a Republican, though it can't just be any Republican. The members of the press corps are fairly urbane, so they don't want to embrace a Republicans who's anti-gay or who doesn't believe in climate change or who favor suppression of the black vote or who questions evolution. Of course, that's pretty much all Republicans. But the desire to love a Republican is strong, so any time one seems to deviate from the GOP norm, he looks really dreamy to the press corps.
Rand Paul does that a bit more than most -- he questions vote suppression and war (sometimes) and drug laws (to some extent) -- so he gives the press a tingle. But the press always feels a tingle when a Republican seems not quite Republican. Look, Paul Ryan put out a poverty plan! Marco Rubio talked about the poor, too! And Mitt Romney acted like a human being in that documentary about his campaign! Swoon, swoon!
It's Bush 2000 all over again. And if the press gets one of these guys elected president, it's going to end the same way.