Rand Paul jabs at potential 2016 rivals in NH1 interview
CONCORD - Rand Paul says "there is a place for aggressiveness in politics."
And in an interview with NH1, the Republican senator from Kentucky who appears to be moving closer to launching a run for the White House, was verbally aggressive against some of his potential rivals for the GOP nomination.
Paul defended his recent war of words with fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (who's also mulling a presidential bid) over President Barack Obama's relaxing of relations with Cuba.
"I try never to start it. I just finish it," Paul told NH1.
The libertarian minded lawmaker's comments came at visit to The Draft Sports Bar and Grill in Concord, the last stop in a jam-packed sunrise to sunset swing Wednesday through the first-in-the-nation primary state.
The trip came just a few days after Mitt Romney said he was considering a third run for the White House. Since Friday's comments, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee's been reaching out and making calls to leading Republican politicians and donors, and to top aides from his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Paul's been critical of Romney in recent days, telling reporters that "Romney's had his chance."
"I think in the last campaign we should have been more affirmative and stronger on criticizing Hillary Clinton and the President on Benghazi," Paul told NH1, in a critical assessment of Romney's 2012 campaign.
Paul's visit also came as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush takes concrete steps towards launching a Republican presidential campaign.
Asked about the possibility of facing off against Romney and Bush, who are both considered more establishment Republicans, the senator with grassroots conservative support landed another jab, saying "we can have moderates in the race, we can have conservatives in the race. And some of the debate will be do we want our standard-bearer to be a conservative or do we want our standard bearer to be a moderate."
Since Bush announced last month that he was seriously considering a presidential bid, Paul's been critical of the former Florida governor's support for the federal Common Core educational standards. One of Paul's stops on Wednesday was at the Founders Academy, a charter school in Manchester, where he touted his opposition to Common Core, and repeated his pledge to try and dismantle the Education Department.
Paul told staff and parents of children attending the school that he'd rather have local schools develop their own standards, which he said would boost innovation.
"If you have a national curriculum and rules, you'll never get to these new ideas," Paul added.
One parent at the gather asked Paul if there was any chance to scrap Common Core and the Education Department. Paul interrupted the woman, saying "depends on what you elect me to."
Asked later about that eyebrow raising moment, Paul said "that was a joke."
But he added that "the point of that is that so much power has been taken away from Congress and gravitated to the presidency and really the separation of powers in country has gotten somewhat atilt and we need to bring it back into equilibrium."
Democrats slam Paul on disability comments
At his first stop of the day, Paul suggested that many of the people who collect Social Security disability benefits are "gaming the system."
"You know the thing is that all of these programs - there's always somebody who is deserving. Everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system. What I tell people is if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn't be getting a disability check. Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts, join the club. Who doesn't get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a back pain," Paul said.
Paul did qualify his comments, saying there are plenty of people who are legitimately disabled.
Democrats quickly attacked.
"Rand Paul's comments are insulting to millions of Americans with disabilities. They want leaders who will help them get a fair shot, not condescend to them or accuse them of gaming the system. Rand Paul has again proven he's not a new type of Republican - when it comes to helping expand opportunity, he's no better than Mitt Romney," said Democratic National Committee Communications Director Mo Elliethee, in a statement.
And in a conference call a few hours later, DNC Vice Chair and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley admitted that there's fraud in the system, but he said that Paul's estimate that more than half of those receiving benefits should not qualify was a "detachment from reality."
In his interview with NH1, Paul pushed back, saying "I think that if you truly want to help people who are disabled, you help them by having enough money in the system and by not giving it to people who are committing fraud to be in the system. So if the Democrats want to support fraud, let them go for it. I think what I said is exactly true, and people know it's true."
Paul kicked off his first visit to New Hampshire since the midterm elections on friendly ground, at Murphy's Diner in downtown Manchester. He spoke to around 20 state lawmakers before taking some questions. Many of those who came to listen to Paul were one-time supporters of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who ran in 2008 and 2012 for the GOP nomination. That included state Rep. Keith Murphy, the owner of Murphy's Diner and adjoining taproom.
It was a similar scene at The Draft, which is owned by state Sen. Andy Sanborn, who also backed Ron Paul in the last presidential election. The elder Paul finished a strong second to Romney in the 2012 New Hampshire primary, grabbing nearly 23% of the vote.
Sanborn praised the younger Paul, saying "one of the things you're that's so amazing about every time Rand comes to town at this point, the intrigue and the desire for people to hear what he has to say is incredibly broad, and I love his dad, but it's much broader than even his dad."
"Yes I will be supporting him if he runs," Sanborn added.
Paul, who spent a lot of time in New Hampshire during his father's 2008 and 2012 runs, and who made three visits to the state last year, appears confident he'll appeal to his father's supporters.
"I think most of the people I met that I've known through the years are still very supportive of the message. I think in New Hampshire there's sort of this ‘leave me alone coalition'. This coalition that says ‘I don't need to be told what to do from Washington. I can take care of things in New Hampshire. Our government can take care of things in New Hampshire. We don't need the interference from Washington.' I think that's a huge movement," Paul said.
Paul is sticking with his timetable, saying he'll decide on a presidential bid by early Spring.
Asked what factors would prevent him from running, Paul told NH1 that "there are still family considerations. There's an ongoing debate at the Paul house on whether this is a good idea or not. But there's also the debate and discussion over whether the ideas will resonate. As we get into the spring, and a lot of ideas are thrown out there, and there's a lot of travel going on, are the ideas that I'm presenting capable of being embraced by a large majority of Republicans and capable of being the vision that Republicans will choose."