Filibustering Rand Paul Builds His Brand

Update: Jr. Kentucky Sen. droned about drones, started #filiblizzard campaign

Update: Paul's filibuster ended shortly after this item was posted, at 12:40, just shy of the 13-hour mark. "I've discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I'm going to have to go take care of one of those," he said. John O. Brennan was confirmed in a 12-3 vote.

Rand Paul had a busy day Wednesday, although he only did one thing: talk. And talk. And talk. And also talk.

The junior senator from Kentucky began his filibuster of Brennan's appointment to the leadership of the CIA just before noon on Wednesday.

Speaking endlessly to stall a vote is not a tactic that has seen a lot of use in recent years, given that all you have to do to filibuster a bill these days is say, "I'm going to filibuster this"—no excessive talking required, and suddenly the majority needs 60 votes to override the filibuster. Besides, filibustering is about getting attention, and Strom Thurmond famously conducted the longest filibuster ever (24 hours, 18 minutes) in 1957 in opposition to the Civil Rights Act, so it's not exactly a ploy with a dignified history.

But one of the most notable aspects Wednesday's coverage was that even though the conservative Paul is, to put it mildly, a divisive figure, pundits across the board were backing him. Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer told Fox News that Paul "would be remembered" for the stunt; even Rachel Maddow's backhanded assessment ended up mildly complimentary: "Congress demanding to play its part in matters of war is the way our government is supposed to work."

Paul, who definitely loves the spotlight, spent some time getting attention for this move. The lawmaker started live tweeting his filibuster practically as soon as he stood up; buddies asking him lengthy questions gave him the chance to sneak a quick candy bar, tweet out an update and start the #filiblizzard hashtag trending. (Here's hoping he didn't have to pee—Thurmond took a steam bath before he went down in infamy in 1957 so he wouldn't have to visit the gents mid-rant.)

It's also important to explain why he was doing it. Last week, attorney general Eric Holder wrote Paul about U.S. drone strikes: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws…for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.” That didn't pass muster with Paul. It's worth noting that the question of whether it's lawful for the president to personally order the killing of U.S. citizens isn't hypothetical.

The gambit worked like gangbusters. Every TV news organization dusted off clips from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for their segments, and there's already a site tracking the endeavor. Paul's tweet @cspan sent viewers scurrying to get the latest from The Network That Never Cuts Away. Gavel-to-gavel coverage is critical for this event since length is the point; Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all had segments on the filibuster, but C-SPAN continued to get links from the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post and Glenn Beck's TheBlaze—all major traffic drivers for political news.

That, by the way, was the extent of the information C-SPAN would part with about its audience; it isn't Nielsen-rated and is tight-lipped about its traffic figures, but a source conceded that the filibuster is a "big event" for the network.

So why was Paul doing this? Why wasn't he asking for a supermajority like every other silent filibusterer? He could even have started his filibuster via email. Well, Paul wants to be president. And this may be his opening gambit—the Senate has the necessary supermajority to override him, but they couldn't take a vote until he shut up.