HARI SREENIVASAN: The crowded Republican field running for president faces the first real test in less than two weeks, when voting begins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is hoping young people show up in big numbers and help him stand out.
Gwen Ifill sat down with him earlier today as part of our Running series.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Paul, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), Republican Presidential Candidate: Thanks for having me.
GWEN IFILL: It seems like the longest race ever.
GWEN IFILL: And here we are, about two weeks out before the first voting in Iowa and then in New Hampshire.
Donald Trump is surging. Ted Cruz is surging. How do you assess the race today?
SEN. RAND PAUL: I think a lot will be told the night of the election.
And I think, in some ways, this is the first election I have really seen led so much by polling. And I think polling is getting more and more inaccurate over time, because more and more people are on cell phones and not really included. A lot of our support comes from younger voters, college-age voters. And I have yet to meet a college student who has ever been included in a poll.
So, I think we have to wait and see how the voters vote. We have a really good ground game. Our goal is to get 10,000 students to vote in Iowa. They’re in school for the first time in several presidential election cycles, so we think we have a real shot.
GWEN IFILL: So, explain to me a little bit more how you do that in Iowa and how you duplicate something like that if you need to in New Hampshire.
SEN. RAND PAUL: President Obama did very well with students, and he won the student vote probably 3-1, and he energized them and got them out.
We have been doing a lot of the same thing, working in dorms, on campus, really trying to organize dorm by dorm, get the kids out. We think a lot of these students aren’t wedded to one party or another yet. But they’re interested in being left alone.
And part of the theme of my campaign is, the government ought to leave people alone. The government ought shouldn’t be collecting everyone’s phone records. I think young people, their life revolves around their phone.
If I want to talk to my kids and they’re in the basement, I have to send them a text to talk to them sometimes. And I think that they understand as much or more than anybody else that the government really shouldn’t have access to all their records.
GWEN IFILL: And when they pick up their phones and they want to look up political news, they yesterday only read about Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.
GWEN IFILL: Sucks all the air out of the room, including on those little devices.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: How do you break through that?
SEN. RAND PAUL: Maybe not quite as bad as you would think, because young people aren’t really watching the traditional. They’re getting things from their friends. They’re getting things passed around that are funny or humorous.
And they’re not really wedded to the cable news so much. And I think it is a disservice, though, that the news, I think, has really dumbed the whole thing down, because it’s been a nonstop Trump circus for months and months now. If you add up all the coverage of all the other candidates, he’s getting 25 times more.
So, is it any surprise that he’s leading in the polls? Which came first? Was he leading in the polls or the coverage? It’s been a little bit of both. But I think it’s a disservice really to the country and to getting a serious debate, because, see, I think it’s important to know who’s going to be in charge of the nuclear weapons.
Trump doesn’t seem — in the last debate, the CNN debate, he didn’t seem to understand what the nuclear triad was, that we have land missiles, sea and air. And then a week after the debate, his campaign was asked, and they said, well, yes, we knew about nuclear weapons, and our problem is we haven’t been willing enough to use nuclear weapons.
And that’s a pretty profound and scary thought, that we would have someone running who thinks we need to use our nuclear weapons more.
GWEN IFILL: Which used to be a disqualifying thing.
SEN. RAND PAUL: You would think.
GWEN IFILL: But it doesn’t seem like that this year.
It seems that you have said Donald Trump would destroy the party. You have said that Ted Cruz is not authentic. Yet, none of that seems to — none of those criticisms, at least for you, seem to grab on.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Well, I think we have simplified the debate too much and we have made it all about, well, we’re just going to show — there was — I bet you, of the eight or 10 hours that people were awake yesterday they could watch the news that Trump was on probably the majority of the time, maybe 80 to 90 percent of the news cycle, all day long, repeated over and over again.
And as a consequence, we’re not breaking through to think about. And I have made the point is, is that the difference between Trump and myself is, Trump wants power. And he thinks he’s so smart that he will fix everything in the country; just give him power.
And I understand the corrupting influence of power and that it is our American tradition to worry about having too much power to gravitate to any person, and that I want more power to be dispersed among the states and the people, and that I want the power in Washington to be constrained by the Constitution.
That’s a completely different tradition. But I think there could be an intellectual debate about which is the better proposition, give one person all of the power and let them fix the country, or acknowledge that maybe power has a corrupting influence.
GWEN IFILL: An intellectual debate sometime in the next two weeks.
Depending on the turnout of young people, who we don’t know if they would turn out for something like an Iowa caucus — sounds like a tough proposition.
SEN. RAND PAUL: It may be. But we’re working very hard. We have 1,000 precinct chairs in Iowa. I think that’s more than anyone else has announced.
We announced last week when I was there that we had made 500,000 phone calls. That’s an enormous project. So, we have put a lot of work and effort in it. We will know February 1 whether it works or not.
But I think I guess what’s disappointing to us is that people think that the election is already over, it’s been pre-decided. And we haven’t even started. We haven’t even had one vote yet.
GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s been written, especially about your campaign. And you weren’t on the debate stage last weekend. And that raised that question.
But I looked at this. And I do wonder what your grand plan is, especially — you have got a lot of endorsements in New Hampshire. As you point out, you have a lot of endorsements in Iowa. One endorsement like Sarah Palin seems to blow all that out of the water.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Maybe, maybe not.
See, I still think there is a question of whether Donald Trump is a conservative. He spent most of his life as a progressive Democrat. He was pro-choice for the vast majority of life — of his life, and now he says now he’s pro-life.
But, really, some of the things that really energize conservatives — when the Tea Party movement arose, one of the things that we were very annoyed with was bailing out the big banks, that the middle class shouldn’t have to bail out the big banks in New York, and yet Donald Trump supported that.
Most of us were opposed to centralizing the control of health insurance and health in our country, and the idea that there would be a single-payer was something that really was the opposite of what we believed in. And he’s been for that as well.
So, really, there are a lot of things about Donald Trump that aren’t conservative, his belief in eminent domain, that the government should take private property from one property owner, and give it to Donald Trump, basically, for a casino. That goes against what most conservatives believe.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about what you believe. You are not pro-war, anti-war, I think is fair to say, in a libertarian sense.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Right.
GWEN IFILL: You also believe that — you advocate for privacy, on behalf of privacy, as you alluded to.
Is this the year where that debate is actually happening, where people are listening to that debate?
SEN. RAND PAUL: I think very much so.
I think, when the NSA, when it was discovered that the NSA was collecting all of our phone records, I think people responded. And the vast majority of particularly young people were opposed to it. If you — there was a poll of those taken under 40; 83 percent of those under 40 thought the government went too far in collecting all our phone records.
It also hasn’t worked. Two bipartisan commissions have looked at it and said, you know what? We haven’t stopped any terrorist attacks by doing this. Now, I do think, since the recent terrorist attacks, people are like, oh, what are we going to do? How do we protect ourselves?
But I think there is a significant amount of people in my party who do believe, you know what, the answer isn’t to give up our liberty. The answer isn’t to trade liberty for a false sense of security. So, I think we actually are still winning that debate, but it is a more difficult environment because people are fearful.
GWEN IFILL: You’re running for your Senate seat at the same time as you run for the nomination.
A couple things that raises. Among them, you’re running to be an insider again, which is not going over well so far, and also some people say you’re trying to have your cake and eat it, too.
SEN. RAND PAUL: I wouldn’t be the first. Paul Ryan ran last year, and ran for both Congress and the vice presidency.
GWEN IFILL: Joe Lieberman.
SEN. RAND PAUL: LBJ, Joe Lieberman.
So, I think there’s a long list of people who have run for two offices. And it turns out that that is the way — the only way forward for me to put the message forward and become part of the national debate.
But we have been very pleased with the response to this. And I think I have a unique voice in the Republican Party. You have got people like Ted Cruz, who says he’s going to make the sand glow, once again, sort of the Donald Trumpism. I think he’s trying to one-up Donald Trump on how tough he’s going to be.
But, really, we ought to think through the ramifications of what happens in the Middle East, because, so often, our interventions in the Middle East have led to consequences that were unintended, but, actually, I think, have made us less safe.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Rand Paul, good luck on the campaign trail.
Thank you very much.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Thank you. Thanks.