The new conventional wisdom is that Sen. Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster laid bare this week the divisions within the GOP between the young conservatives and the establishment. The new conventional wisdom is wrong.
Paul's minor victory did not show the divide between the hawkish old guard and the insurgent young guns, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz among them. But it was not "yesterday's mashed potatoes" vs. a "new generation," as Matt Drudge tweeted. It did not highlight "the schism between those brassy conservative newcomers and their Republican Party elders," as The Washington Examiner put it. It wasn't a "young libertarian whippersnapper" vs. the "old establishment Republican bulls," as the Chicago Tribune's John Kass said. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, despite all those headlines and charts on the Senate floor, really are hawks. And during Paul's anti-drone-athon, "many were asking why Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn't on the floor cheering him on," Roll Call reports. According to National Journal's Shane Goldmacher and Beth Reinhard, McConnell's office was cheering him on almost two weeks ago. Or at least, giving him the okay.
Paul floated the idea of filibustering John Brennan last month over a lasagna dinner with Jesse Benton, who managed Paul's 2010 campaign and is now one of McConnell's top strategists. "After the dinner, Benton reached out to McConnell's office, detailing Paul's plans and his hopes for support," National Journal reports. "McConnell and Co. knew the filibuster was coming, even if they did not know when precisely or what exactly it would look like." He told Wyoming Sen. John Barasso he would talk until he couldn't talk anymore the day before, and McConnell told Republican senators he was okay with that.
Paul did not do much to clarify this point in his bleary-eyed media tour Thursday afternoon. Like when he was asked about it directly by CNN's Dana Bash, in an answer that was lost amidst all the fuss over that letter from Eric Holder:
BASH: And you snuck up on both leaders, right? Is that fair to say? Did they know you were going to do this?
PAUL: No. In fact we didn't know we were going to do it that day.
Why would Paul want to look like a lone wolf going rogue against the wishes of Republican leaders? For one thing, McConnell, according to polls, is the least-popular senator in America. And Paul is "seriously" considering running for president, he tells Politico. "I think our party needs something new, fresh and different," he said. Even if it was pre-approved by the old, stale, and establishment beforehand.