Three days after Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster propelled the senator from Kentucky into the national political spotlight, Washington was still abuzz Sunday with pundits weighing implications for 2016 and Republicans debating whether to embrace the libertarian-leaning senator’s vigorous defense of due process.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, was among those coming down enthusiastically in Mr. Paul’s camp, and he criticized colleagues who attacked Mr. Paul’s dramatic speech.
“What Rand Paul did on the floor this week was fantastic,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The filibuster, over the question of whether drones could be used against American citizens on U.S. soil, temporarily stalled confirmation of John O. Brennan, President Obama’s pick to head the CIA.
Mr. McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the House, also pushed back at those in his own party who took shots at Mr. Paul — Sen. John McCain of Arizona called the filibuster “ridiculous” and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has spoken similarly.
“I think those Republicans who criticized him were wrong. And this is a place that I think the Democrats were wrong that a lot of them didn’t join with him. This was an American issue and an idea of civil liberties. I think that’s a core belief of Republicans, and if we embrace a little more of our libertarian views, we’ll go further.”
Mr. Paul responded to Mr. McCain on Friday by telling a radio interviewer that while “I treat Sen. McCain with respect, I don’t know if I always get the same in return.”
He followed up Sunday with an op-ed in The Washington Post that was headlined “My filibuster was just the beginning.”
In the piece, the tea party leader said, “I believe the support I received this past week shows that Americans are looking for someone to really stand up and fight for them. And I’m prepared to do just that.”
Comments like those and the reaction to the filibuster — at one point Mr. Paul was reported to be the No. 1 trending item in the world on Twitter — convinced many that the first-term senator is not just a contender but the current man to beat for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
On the Sunday news talk shows, Mr. Paul’s emergence as a legitimate contender for the presidential nomination had some Republicans excited about 2016.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich praised Mr. Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another tea party-backed senator who came to floor of the Senate and helped carry out the filibuster.
“Republicans need to get over sitting around passively waiting for their leadership. And to have a Ted Cruz, to have a Rand Paul, this is a very healthy ferment from the ground up,” the 2012 presidential-primary candidate said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Steve Schmidt, a strategist for the 2008 McCain campaign, said on “Meet the Press,” “Rand Paul arrived as a national figure.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is said to be weighing a 2016 Republican White House run of his own, was more cautious in praising the filibuster.
“The fact that Sen. McCain was critical of elements of what Sen. Paul said is fair,” he told CNN.
“But on the other hand, I think he would respect the fact that Sen. Paul got a response from the administration on the key question of whether or not drones could be used against American citizens on American soil. And I think it’s OK to have a disagreement.”
Conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said, “I think Rand Paul not only sent a message to the country, but solidified himself in a 2016 run for the presidency that will shake up his party, as it deserves to be shaken up.”
One Democrat — Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon —- joined the Paul filibuster on the floor of the Senate, but since then, progressives and Democrats have joined in the praise for the Paul filibuster.
Democratic consultant Donna Brazile, appearing on CNN, said Sunday that Democrats had raised valid questions about the drone policy, “but Rand Paul, to his credit, went to the Senate well and spent 13 hours driving home this big issue.”
Mo Ellerbee, a former press secretary for Hillary Rodham Clinton and current faculty member at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, wrote on CNN on Friday that Time magazine needs to rewrite its recent cover story “The Republican Savior: How Marco Rubio became the new voice of the GOP.”
“Only time will tell if the junior senator from Florida lives up to that billing, and it’s entirely possible that Time will be proven wrong,” he wrote. “But there’s one cover that the magazine could run now and be entirely confident in: “The Republican Messenger: How Rand Paul became the real voice of the GOP.”