Rand Paul’s 2016 Plans May Not Feature Famous Father

Many Republicans Expect Ron Paul to Help Raise Money, Rally Libertarians

Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), left, listens to his father, Ron Paul, speak in 2011 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), left, listens to his father, Ron Paul, speak in 2011 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Getty Images

Steps by Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) toward launching a presidential campaign in the wake of his party’s midterm sweep are raising questions about the role of his political mentor and father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul .

The elder Mr. Paul isn’t expected to be there on Wednesday when his son convenes political advisers from around the country for a private powwow in Washington, the latest sign that the 79-year-old former congressman may be on the sidelines of his son’s expected White House bid.

The gathering comes eight days after the Republican Party’s decisive victory in the midterm election, which drew far different reactions from father and son.

Sen. Paul had campaigned for many of the GOP winners, and the results handed him a chance to advance his legislative agenda as a member of the new Republican Senate majority.  The election also sealed Sen. Paul’s alliance with fellow Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell , the presumptive new majority leader.

“Tonight, we begin to rebuild America,’’ Sen. Paul told a cheering crowd at Mr. McConnell’s victory party.

By contrast, the former congressman shrugged at his party’s big win, which gave it control of the Senate.

“Don’t expect big changes,” the elder Mr. Paul posted on Twitter on Nov. 4, saying he expected that the new Congress would fail to cut spending and would lead the U.S. into a protracted war in Syria and Iraq.

“The change in control of the Senate from Democrat to Republican actually means very little, despite efforts by politicians and the mainstream media to convince us otherwise,” Mr. Paul added in a column posted with a group affiliated with him.

The contrasting views reflect the different paths taken by father and son, with the younger Paul determined to be taken seriously by a Republican establishment that considered the elder Paul a fringe candidate in his own White House bids.  He ran once as a Libertarian and twice as a Republican.

Both Messrs. Paul draw support from the libertarian movement, which has provided them with a committed cadre of volunteers in their respective campaigns.  But Sen. Paul also has taken a number of steps to broaden his appeal, reaching out to the party’s large-dollar donors, the business community and African-American leaders.

Many Republicans expect Ron Paul to remain on the edges of his son’s likely campaign, more visible online than in public, possibly helping to raise money and mobilize support in the libertarian community.

“The trick is for Rand to continue to get the best of both worlds—to capture his dad’s supporters who are so passionate, but also to show he is his own person with views and relationships in the mainstream of the Republican Party,” said Trey Grayson, who lost to Mr. Paul in the 2010 Republican Senate primary in Kentucky.

Mr. McConnell backed Mr. Grayson in that race, then threw his support to Mr. Paul in the general election.  Ron Paul attended only a couple of public events during his son’s Senate campaign.

In some respects, Sen. Paul seems to have two political godfathers:  Ron Paul, revered in the tea party movement that launched his son into the Senate, and Mr. McConnell, arguably the most powerful Republican in Washington, who said two days after the election that Mr. Paul could count on him if he ran for president.

Sen. Paul has said he would not make a formal announcement about a White House bid until the spring.

Meanwhile, he is expected to turn to Mr. McConnell for support on his legislative priorities, including bills that would reduce sentences on nonviolent drug offenders and offer a temporary tax holiday for U.S. companies to repatriate offshore profits.

Sen. Paul’s spokesman declined to answer questions about Ron Paul’s involvement in a possible 2016 presidential campaign.  Attempts to reach Ron Paul were unsuccessful.

In this year’s elections, Sen. Paul supported Mr. McConnell over a tea party challenger in Kentucky’s GOP primary.  For Mr. Paul, the alliance earned goodwill from business groups and established GOP donors but gave pause to some conservatives, who think Mr. McConnell is beholden to corporate interests and who fault him for striking deals with Democrats that raised the debt ceiling.

Mr. Paul also stepped closer to the mainstream of his party—and parted with his father—by supporting U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

Drew Ivers, who helped lead Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns in Iowa in 2008 and 2012, said he isn’t ready to commit to Mr. Paul’s son.  He cited unease with Mr. McConnell and U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, as well as family obligations.

“I’m going to watch the field to develop a little more,” said Mr. Ivers, who had dinner with Rand Paul when he visited Iowa in August.  “I also want to see how Rand negotiates a few more obstacles in the course he is taking.”

Chris Stearns, who worked on Ron Paul’s campaign in Virginia, said he probably would help Rand Paul, but in a more limited capacity.

“There are a small group of folks who won’t support Rand because they’ve come to the conclusion that he is a sellout,” Mr. Stearns said.  “I just think he’s being pragmatic.  At the end of the day, Rand’s base of support is so much broader than his father’s.”

Write to Beth Reinhard at beth.reinhard@wsj.com