On Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky became the second Republican to officially declare his presidential candidacy.
The libertarian Republican unveiled a new website before speaking at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, promising to breathe new life into Washington. "We've come to take our country back," Paul told the rally on Tuesday afternoon.
In the coming days he'll take to the campaign trail and hold events in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. "Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream," his slogan reads.
Since emerging on the national stage with his election to the Senate five years ago, Paul has become one of the most interesting figures in American politics. His non-traditional stances on issues such as marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform put him at odds with significant segments of the Republican Party, but also account for his appeal beyond the party base.
As Paul announces his run the presidency, here's everything you need to know about his chances of winning, his stances on important issues, his past and much more:
Does he have any chance at winning the nomination?
Paul would not be the typical Republican nominee, but with a large and dedicated band of young supporters, he's well-positioned to make a strong outside run at the nomination. The energy of his backers could propel him to the kind of early success crucial to any underdog campaign. Even then, he will need more than a few big breaks to forge the kind of coalition necessary to overcome big spenders like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a Koch brothers-backed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Paul is a long shot, but stranger things have happened.
His position on marijuana policy could be a game-changer.
Paul believes that the question of marijuana legalization should be left to the states. But he is, as John Hudak from the Brookings Institution recently told Mic, "someone who is as close to pro-legalization as a Republican is going to get anytime soon ... I think he understands that the drug war in this country has failed. This seems like a very sincere reflection of his policy ideas."
On March 10, Paul, along with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), introduced a bill that would end federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Paul could become "the first top-tier presidential candidate from either party to make marijuana reform a major campaign issue."
Paul's position on climate change:
By the appallingly low standards of the GOP's stance on climate change, Paul has been hailed as a gutsy risk-taker. The basis for this perception is that he dared to vote "yes" on an amendment stating climate change is real and human activity has played some role in contributing to it. But on another amendment during the same debate stating human activity is "significantly responsible" for climate change, he voted "no."
Indeed, virtually everything about Paul's record, shaped in no small part by his allegiance to his home state's coal industry, signals a mainstream Republican stance on climate change — denial of the science and resistance to meaningful measures to deal with its consequences.
Where Paul stands on LGBT rights:
Paul is opposed to gay marriage, which he considers a symptom of a "moral crisis" in America. Recently he said on Fox News that marriage is "between a man and a woman" and extending the institution to same-sex couples "offends myself and a lot of people." In 2013, he said he doesn't believe in gay rights "because I don't really believe in rights based on your behavior." Paul has suggested that the legality of gay marriage should be left to individual states, but his rationale was that it was the most effective way to halt its spread. Reason described his mention of a states-based solution as a way of "trying to throw a bone to social conservatives without making any sort of policy commitments."
His position on affordable education:
"I don't think you'd notice if the whole department was gone tomorrow," Paul said about the Department of Education last year. He favors abolishing the department altogether and calls for education financing to be managed locally instead.
What about all those federal loans that students rely on to get through college? Paul has offered a compromise, proposing that Pell grants — financial aid that maxes out at less than $6,000 a year for a student — can remain federally managed. Mitigating the student debt crisis isn't a priority for Rand: in 2014, he voted to block the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would've allowed student loan borrowers to refinance their loans with lower interest rates.
How big does he want government to be?
Paul hails from the Republican Party's libertarian wing, whose ideological outlook values small government, unregulated markets and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
But Paul is far more complex — or confused — than the "libertarian" label would imply. On government spending and economic regulation, he is generally true to doctrine but has decidedly non-libertarian positions insofar as he isn't supportive of gay marriage, is anti-abortion, and has supported massive increases in defense spending. Those issues play well with the segment of the Republican base, but they aren't classic small government positions.
Who are his biggest donors?
Paul's politics are both a liability and an asset for his fundraising potential. His relationship with his libertarian father and his willingness to buck the party line on issues like foreign policy will scare off some of the GOP's moneyed donors looking for a safer candidate. And Paul's personal style of politics, which tends to be less buttoned-up than his competitors, has worried some establishment mega-donors who fear Paul isn't polished enough for prime time.
But Paul's hardline stance against spending has won him rounds of golf with billionaire Charles Koch, and a number of tech giants in Silicon Valley — where Paul has an office — have donated to him in the past. Paul's bid will rely on a mix of friendly libertarian-leaning wealthy donors and small-money donations to stay afloat, tapping into the grassroots network of donors that kept his father's presidential bids alive in 2008 and 2012.
Who is his biggest family liability?
Paul's father, Ron Paul, is a libertarian cult hero. He ran in multiple Republican presidential campaigns but was never fully accepted into the party establishment. The younger Paul has been careful to distance himself from his father on a number of controversial issues, like Social Security, which Ron has argued is "unconstitutional" and called a "Ponzi scheme." Rand would prefer to make deep cuts but denies any plans to eliminate the popular program. The elder Paul also wants to legalize most drugs, not just pot. His son has focused mostly on legalizing medical marijuana and reducing or eliminating prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.
Best anecdote for your next dinner party:
In August 2010, a few months before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, a strange story emerged from Paul's college days at Baylor University. As a fellow former student told GQ, Paul and a friend, both members of a fraternity-like organization called the NoZe Brotherhood, "kidnapped" and tried unsuccessfully to make her smoke pot with them.
The men then allegedly drove her to a small creek, where they asked that she "bow down and worship" something they called "Aqua Buddha." (Both Paul and the woman were members of the school's swim team.) This was, by all accounts, an ultimately innocent but supremely weird caper. The woman, who has never identified herself publicly, told eGQ that it was the last time she saw Paul before he left the university in 1984.
Earliest appearance in a news story:
According to Nexis, the first mention of "Rand Paul" in a major news outlet came in an April 13, 2000, Associated Press story about friendly Republican state lawmakers in Kentucky. "These are the people who held the line and opposed taxes," Paul is quoted as saying.
Oldest video we could find on YouTube:
Paul appeared on what looks to be a public access television program sometime in the 1990s in his capacity as founder/chairman of Kentucky Taxpayers United. In the following clip, uploaded by the show's host, a younger Paul discusses holding state lawmakers accountable for their votes on tax issues:
His most-retweeted tweet of all time:
Paul's most-retweeted tweet came during this year's State of the Union, when he took issue with President Barack Obama's proposal to provide free nationwide community college:
Best campaign swag available on RandPaul.com:
Paul's most famous quote:
When Obama tapped top security adviser and drone enthusiast John Brennan to run the CIA, Paul demanded a guarantee from Brennan that drone strikes would never be used to kill American citizens on American soil. When he was not immediately provided with that promise, Paul began what would be a filibuster of 12 hours, 52 minutes against the nomination. During his time on the Senate floor in March 2013, Paul asked Americans the following question:
Paul's most cringeworthy moment:
Paul seemed to have one foot on each side of the line during the great vaccine debate, saying on CNBC in February he supported mandatory vaccinations in some cases, but had also "heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children, who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines."
His exchange with anchor Kelly Evans then took an ugly turn after Evans suggested the corporate tax holiday Paul had come on to discuss might not lead to the windfall he expected. As they went back and forth, a clearly frustrated Paul shushed the host, telling her to "calm down a bit."
The next day, Paul released a statement claiming he "did not say vaccines cause disorders, just that they were temporally related." Then he posted this tweet: