AUSTIN—You know we’ve reached peak South by Southwest when a Republican senator from Kentucky chooses that event as the launch pad for his personal brand. (Ok, maybe it is pretty fitting after all, seeing as it’s a giant launch pad for anything and everything you can think of.) Senator Rand Paul took the stage on Sunday to talk tech shop with moderator Evan Smith from the Texas Tribune.
He didn’t use the panel as an opportunity to announce a presidential campaign for 2016, but he kind of hinted that it would be coming around the corner. His actions scream of candidacy: He just opened an office in Texas, he’s experimenting with social media, and he’s making the press rounds. He certainly knew how to butter up the crowd in Austin.
“Tech people are interested in progress and bipartisanship, so we feel right at home here at South by Southwest,” he said, adding that he didn’t think techie voters easily fit into a political party’s box since they tend to think for themselves and play by their own rules.
Paul wants to connect with the tech community (you know, for votes), and he thinks he’s found a platform that can help him do that. He’s pro privacy and anti net neutrality, and he’ll be telling us all about it via Snapchat.
Go where the kids go
Just a few days before his SXSW appearance, Paul discussed his Snapchat presence with Politico’s Mike Allen, and he mentioned it again in Austin. (Sheesh, maybe we’ve reached peak Snapchat, too.) Snapchat is just one part of his plan to reach voters in the highly sought-after “under 30” demographic—Snapchat has a huge number of users between the ages of 18 and 24, so Paul wants engage with them to see if he can wrangle up potential voters.
“A huge part of campaigning is reaching the people,” Paul said, “and people are already on Snapchat, so it’s just a matter of going to where the people are.” He also acknowledged that Snapchat has a ton of users that are under the age of 18 now, but will be 18 by the time 2016 rolls around.
On privacy (and a bit of Hillary Clinton bashing)
Surprisingly, Paul seems to side with Edward Snowden—he mentioned Snowden a few times when the conversation moved towards privacy, which Paul is a champion of. Paul believes most young people (again, with the under 30 demo) will want leadership that believes in privacy, especially when it comes to mobile devices and data collection.
“Every young person communicates via phone 100 times a day, and none of them would want the government to collect these records,” he said, adding that because teenagers hate when their parents spy on them, they’re likely to want a less-prying government.
Paul called himself the leader of the "Leave Me Alone Coalition," a group that thinks that the government shouldn't be telling people what to do and should, basically, leave them alone—for the most part. He firmly believes that traditionally liberal voters will be open to embracing a Republican candidate who campaigns hard for privacy. It’s not that he’s against the NSA, but he wants to make sure their practices don’t violate the Bill of Rights.
He also couldn’t help but make jabs at potential opponent Hillary Clinton.
“Don’t use your private email server, that’s my first piece of advice,” Paul said, criticizing her controversial choice to use a private email server for government email during her time as U.S. Secretary of State. Paul said she could have put President Obama in jeopardy, since private email doesn’t have the same level of security as the systems put in place at the White House.
On net neutrality
Paul says he’s against net neutrality in its current form, calling it an “unauthorized power grab at a private industry.” He thinks the answer to keeping the Internet open and affordable lies with preventing the utility from becoming monopolized. He’s pushing to break up cable and Internet monopolies (using New York City as an example) to open up the competition, so customers have different price and speed options. That way, it doesn’t interfere with the market.
He wants to be clear, though, perhaps suspecting that the Austin audience was mostly in favor of net neutrality: He’s opposed to net neutrality because he believes in the free market, not because he wants to throttle the Internet.
“The Internet is free of regulation, and we should keep it that way,” he said. “I don’t want the government to screw up one of the greatest resources we have.”
So, it’s technically unclear on whether or not Paul will be running for president, but one thing is crystal clear: He certainly knew what stances to take in front of a room full of tech enthusiasts.