Remember how conservative pundits all thought Mitt Romney should have done a better job at his RNC National Convention of softening up his image by having others talk about his bio?
Based on Sen. Rand Paul’s announcement “event,” someone was paying attention. What happened today wasn’t an announcement speech, but more like a night at a national convention. Testimonials were given, prayers were said, and then, finally, the event culminated with the nominee’s speech.
It was all really something to behold. After Ted Cruz’s announcement, Paul had to do something different. And knowing that he’s not as inspirational a speaker as Cruz, his team wisely determined to go a different route. Paul’s announcement was an ensemble effort that went heavy on multimedia. And where Cruz delivered a message straight to the base, Paul also stressed his appeal to people outside the Republican tent.
We’ve heard Rand speak before, and frankly, this speech was nothing special. But the many speeches and videos leading up to the main event said more about Rand’s strategy than anything else.
Former Representative J.C. Watts, an African-American from Oklahoma, opened up (and emceed) the festivities, asking the audience to pray for Rand and his wife.
There was an opening prayer. Check. Pledge of Allegiance led by a vet. Check. Star-Spangled Banner. Check. Chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A! U.S.A.!” Check!
“It’s time for a compassionate leader in the White House. It’s also time for a uniting force,” Kentucky State Sen. Ralph Alvarado said. (And no, he’s not talking about George W. Bush.)
Next, a young female college student said Rand is a different kind of politician—that he breaks the old Republican vs. Democrat paradigm. She talked about his concerns about privacy, and this is followed by yet another video—this one about governmental snooping.
There were so many messages to take in, all of which cumulatively suggested Rand Paul is awesome. He is a man of faith. He is patriotic. He is interesting.
As Dave Catanese tweeted, “So far Rand has had 2 African Americans, a blind child, a Hispanic legislator and a female college student on stage.”
Pastor Jerry Stephenson, an African-American Louisville preacher who had been a Democrat until 2012, provided hope Rand could reach out to new voters. “I am telling every independent it is time to run out here and run with Senator Rand Paul,” he said.
It’s amazing, but Rand’s announcement somehow featured more preachers and more prayers than Ted Cruz’s announcement...at Liberty University!
Then came a terrific video narrated by Rand’s wife, Kelley—followed by a speech from Kelley, who is classy, attractive, and the opposite of “kooky.” (Seriously, maybe Kelley should be the candidate in the family?)
In short Rand didn’t have to tell people he’s a devout Christian, that he cares about outreach to non-traditional Republicans, that he’s a dedicated ophthalmologist who does volunteer work in Guatemala, that he’s a serious leader who isn’t a fringe candidate ... he showed them. (And when showing wasn’t enough, it was explicitly said via video and via surrogate speakers.)
The multiple videos emphasized different aspects of Paul’s message. The multiple speakers each symbolically and substantively represented different facets of Paul’s philosophy.
Eventually, Paul did speak. And he did give a red meat-laden speech. His “We have come to take our country back” declaration was somewhat discordant compared to what had preceded it, but the audience roared with approval.
Like Cruz, who—on dozens of occasions—asked his audience to “imagine” his version of America, Rand went with an “I see an America” refrain that had the side benefit of alluding to his work as an ophthalmologist.
The news media, of course, will show excerpts of Paul’s actual speech—including his call for term limits and for Jack Kemp-esque “economic freedom zones.” They will note his continued attempts to not be “out-hawked” by his Republican competitors, including Cruz, by saying things like “The enemy is radical Islam”—a shot at President Obama, who refuses to say that, and “I will oppose any deal that does not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions and have strong verification provisions. And I will insist that the final version be brought before Congress.”
But this shouldn’t be seen solely as a speech, but rather as a well-choreographed “event.” This was a campaign rollout demonstrating that Team Paul at least understands the need to balance Paul’s libertarian-leaning ideology with a kinder, gentler image.
It was an impressive start. But can they keep it up?