AUSTIN — Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul may not officially be a Republican presidential candidate but it seemed to be a forgone conclusion judging from his appearance South by Southwest Interactive Sunday.
In what was billed “A Conversation with Rand Paul,” hosted by Texas Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, Paul took the stage to the beat of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein and branched out far afield from the technology topics of the conference.
Rand, spoke to a friendly crowd that broke into applause several times, especially when he brought up the National Security Administration and rights to privacy. He said he wanted to appear at SXSW because the generally young and tech-forward attendees could be a prime part of his “leave-me-alone coalition.”
“The leave-me-alone coalition thinks that government doesn’t know everything, that government really shouldn’t be telling us what to do, for the most part, and that we want to be left alone, whether it’s our economic lives our our personal lives,” he said. “I’m the only candidate who thinks the NSA program on bulk collection of your phone records should be shut down.”
The hour-long exchange sprawled over many topics, ranging from the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s e-mails (“[her] arrogance and hypocrisy will be hard for her to overcome”), voter disenfranchisement (“the problem isn’t [voter ID], it’s the one no one talks about, if you have a felony record”), and his signing of the letter from Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton to the leaders of Iran (“I want the negotiated deal to be a good deal”).
Of course, this being SXSW Interactive, he had to talk tech too. When Smith asked him if it was advisable for a potential presidential candidate to be on Snapchat, as Paul is, he responded, “We’re trying to get new people engaged. This is a new, young audience. I think you have to find people where they are.”
There were no questions taken from the audience.
The Sunday conversation was part of a major Paul push in Austin this weekend. According to the conservative media outlet Breitbart News, Paul spent Saturday evening schmoozing “with top technology leaders — including executives from the wildly successful internet radio company Pandora and social media powerhouse Snapchat — at a major-players-only private party in Austin hosted by Pandora.”
Paul wasn’t the only political figure to put SXSW on their calendar this year. Former vice president Al Gore appeared Friday and Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., was due to appear on a panel called “Millennials: The Unstoppable Force” but he canceled earlier in the week. Schock has been embroiled in controversy over use of taxpayer money.
Paul says he’s still deciding on whether he will run. “It’s still a maybe,” he said. “I will make the decision in the next few weeks.”
In any event, his political action committee, RANDPAC, is opening an office in Austin Monday.