Sam Youngman

Sam Youngman: What Jeb Bush's announcement taught us about Rand Paul

With a rich selection of holiday movies to choose from this magical time of year, the classic Die Hard is sometimes overlooked.

But I was reminded of it this week when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his intention to begin exploring a 2016 presidential bid, and Kentucky's junior U.S. Sen. Rand Paul appeared to channel one of John McClane's great lines in response:

"Welcome to the party, pal."

Paul has been openly considering a bid of his own for more than a year, and Bush's announcement on Tuesday offered some clues about what kind of posture Paul will strike in the coming months.

■ Paul is and isn't waiting to make his announcement until the spring.

Paul has been adamant that he will announce his decision to run sometime in the vicinity of April and not before. But just like his trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Paul proved Tuesday that he can still talk and act like a presidential candidate long before he makes it official.

Hours after Bush's announcement, Paul was on Fox News Channel warning that it will be "very, very difficult" for Bush to win Republican primaries because of his outspoken support for Common Core education standards.

Put another way, Paul hasn't stepped in the ring, but that won't stop him from throwing punches.

■ Paul will be technologically aggressive.

My old friend Zeke Miller of Time Magazine reported on Tuesday that Paul's PAC had struck first blood in the ad game by running a Google ad with a link to RANDPAC that showed up when folks searched for the news that Bush was starting a PAC.

"Join a movement working to shrink government. Not grow it," the ad said.

One of Paul's first post-midterm hires was Republican digital superstar Vince Harris, who also worked on incoming U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's winning campaign this year.

By itself, the news that Paul had hired Harris was a clear indicator that Paul plans to be on the cutting edge of campaign technology if he decides to make a run for the nomination. On Tuesday, it was clear why.

Again, Paul might be waiting to make it official, but Harris and the rest of the team appear ready for battle.

■ There will be room for a candidate on the right. After watching the conservative media's reaction to Bush's announcement, that's a little like saying there's room in the hangar for a paper airplane.

Paul's aides and allies have long believed that the 2016 nomination battle will come down to two candidates — an establishment candidate in the 2012 mold of Mitt Romney and a candidate who might fall in the category of "other."

Obviously, Bush and his family have deep roots in the Republican donor community, and that will no doubt pay off handsomely down the road if Bush turns his PAC into a full-fledged campaign.

But on Common Core, immigration and other hot-button issues, conservative commentators from Rush Limbaugh on down view Bush skeptically at best and as the second coming of Jon Huntsman at worst.

If Paul's supporters had any concerns that the party would immediately coalesce around Bush — and really, they didn't — the reaction on the right must have been comforting.

■ Paul will stick to his timetable. The far right's reaction also gives Paul some breathing room, demonstrating that Paul doesn't have to scuttle his timetable for fear of missing his window.

Bush's announcement fully erased any notion that the Republican Party would immediately and magically unify around the brother and son of former presidents.

When people close to Paul were asked Tuesday how Bush's announcement might affect Paul's, the answer was it doesn't.

■ Democrats are eager to welcome Republicans to the race.

Bush was the first, but he won't be the last to be unceremoniously welcomed to 2016 by Democratic super PACs, such as American Bridge.

On Dec. 8, Bridge unveiled a massive "playbook" on each of the Republicans who has mentioned running for president as a possibility.

American Bridge president Brad Woodhouse, whom you might have seen getting yelled at by his mother on CSPAN this week, said at the time that the Republican field "is a mix of long-time Tea Party favorites and candidates who are desperately racing right to prove their conservative bona fides."

"I'm proud to say that there will be no better way to get smart fast on each of the candidates and no better reference point to keep them honest than our 2016 Scouting Report," Woodhouse said.

The opposition research on Bush, specifically about his business relationships and dealings, made it around the Internet in record time Tuesday, and in the days before, in part because the Democratic research machine is gassed up and ready to go.

Waiting until April or not, Paul has a page in that book, just like Bush.

When he decides to get in the race, Democrats will make sure the dirt they have on Paul will be in every reporter's inbox (again) faster than you can say "yippee ki-yay."

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