Apparently not content with a quiet retirement, former Texas congressman Ron Paul is expanding and diversifying his libertarian cottage industry with the launch of a new online television network, the Ron Paul Channel.
The subscription-only network, which is set to air sometime next month, is an entrepreneurial attempt by Paul to corner part of the growing — and increasingly lucrative — conspiracy-theory media market currently dominated by Glenn Beck and Alex Jones. Running under the tagline "Turn Off Your TV. Turn on the Truth," the channel promises to give viewers the news they would "never be shown" by the lame-stream media.
"We're seeing the end of the era and the beginning of the new one," Paul prophesies in a teaser video. "The lying, conniving, and collusion between those who give us our news and information and the government — that's going to change." It is, in essence, a scheme to monetize the suspicion and distrust of his army of Internet-savvy, conspiracy-minded followers. In the abstract, it is a brilliant business move for a recently retired politician who refused, on ideological grounds, to participate in the congressional pension system.
The complication is that Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul, is emerging as a serious candidate for the White House in 2016 and is making a concerted effort to distance himself from the fringe views and associations upon which his father built a career and a following. Ron Paul's refusal to retreat quietly to the farm — and his penchant for going off-script — escalates the already-present risk that his antics may begin to create real problems for Rand’s nascent campaign effort.
So far, Rand Paul has mostly managed to avoid being tarred by any of the players in Ron Paul's burgeoning libertarian-industrial complex. In April, the younger Paul was conspicuously absent from the opening of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, a noninterventionist think tank whose board members include a smattering of 9/11 truthers and Slobodan Milošević apologists.
But Ron Paul's postretirement antics have already been a source of awkwardness between father and son. When Ron Paul tweeted in February that the death of U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle "seems to confirm that 'he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,'" Rand Paul was forced to weigh in, telling Breitbart that Kyle "was a hero."
Last week's flare-up over reports that Rand Paul's Senate aide Jack Hunter, a.k.a. the Southern Avenger, used to traipse around South Carolina in a Stars and Bars luchador mask espousing neo-Confederate racism, proved again how easily stained the younger Paul is by the less-seemly elements of the far right. (Hunter, of course, was a self-inflicted wound.)
“Ron Paul was widely viewed by Republican voters as a kook, and voters are still recovering from that kook hangover,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who worked as a senior adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “A lot of Rand Paul's energy will go toward distancing himself from that kook factor. Having someone who calls himself the Southern Avenger on your staff makes that more difficult.”
Schmidt warns that should the younger Paul decide to run for president in 2016, his father's continued political involvement and postretirement ventures could get in the way of the campaign. “There is no scrutiny like the presidential campaign. Every day in the campaign that Ron Paul says something, the Rand Paul campaign is going to have to respond to that. And how well he does at answering those questions, and at distancing himself from his father, will determine how successful his campaign will be,” Schmidt said.
Rand Paul’s advisers — many of whom have put a lot of energy into separating father and son in the public mind — are sensitive to the idea that Ron Paul and his postretirement ventures could hurt his son's political prospects.
“Rand and Ron are each doing their own thing,” said John Tate, the president of the Campaign for Liberty and a longtime Paul confidant. “There is always curiosity about Rand as Ron’s son, but Rand has and will chart his own course. Polls — and even occasionally the media — treat Rand as Rand and Ron as Ron.”
That may prove true: A PPP poll released last week found that Rand Paul is leading the GOP field in Iowa, a key Republican caucus state, and holds a two-to-one advantage on the question of which candidate is the most conservative — the opposite of how Ron Paul polled in the state during his 2008 and 2012 bids.
But with two years to go until the 2016 Iowa straw poll, Paul can ill afford to spend his time dodging associations with the right-wing fringe, a problem that could be compounded by an online television channel solely devoted to Ron Paul and his ideas.
“The things that make television work don't augur well for politics,” said Doug Wead, a veteran Paul aide who advised Ron Paul's last two presidential campaigns. “Television needs entertainment, drama, and controversy, and those are things that can sink a campaign.”
“In hours and hours of television, people are bound to say things that are, shall we say, ill advised,” Wead said. “There will be controversy. And that will probably have some effect on Rand.”