If you listen to Rand Paul speak, at some point he'll tell you he's a Different Kind Of Republican™. But Paul is actually just one of several presidential candidates all trying to do the same thing this year: go viral. Rand's campaign has so far been marked by several class clown antics and desperate stunts, including a quest to set the world record for the most attempts to destroy the tax code. (So far he's tried shooting it, lighting it on fire, and the Fargo method, which involves a woodchipper.) But he's flanked by people like Donald Trump (who needs no explanation), and people like Lindsey Graham, who destroyed his cellphone with the help of a conservative clickbait factory after Trump rudely gave everyone his number.
Republicans are trying everything to find the gold at the end of the viral rainbow — perhaps especially Paul, who incidentally fancies studying a return to the gold standard. His latest experiment began Tuesday morning, when he decided to be the "first presidential candidate to livestream an entire day." Well, he wasn't.
Paul's livestream appeared to be a direct feed from what I can only guess was the camera on a 2004 Motorola Razr, and it hardly lasted the entire day. We got to have breakfast with Paul, and see him visit the baseball diamond from Field of Dreams, and hear him give the same stump speech at various Iowa colleges. Socialism is bad because capitalism defeated the Soviet Union, Paul told students. Bernie Sanders wants to give you free tuition, but who's going to pay for it? The plumber down the street? But mostly, Paul's Ustream page showed a bumper image promising that his stream would return shortly. It wasn't exactly The Truman Show that Paul's chief digital strategist promised.
For technical reasons alone, Paul's livestream was a terrible disaster, but I don't think it was a terrible idea. It's not transparency — there's a much higher bar for that in politics — but getting to see a real person inside their carapace of carefully managed branding is refreshing. Paul is usually a chore to listen to for more than a minute, but watching his stream today was almost worth it just to catch him wisecracking in a moment of frustration with the very exercise he was promoting. "Are you still running for president?", someone asked. "I wouldn't be doing this dumbass livestream if I wasn't," Paul answered.
But when you look at Paul's livestream next to traditional events like party-sponsored debates, which so far have looked like overlong Cylon conventions, the shitty livestream actually comes out looking pretty good. There's an uncanny valley between the political actor and the person, and the desire to bridge it is so powerful that someone like Donald Trump is currently leading many polls. After controlling for bellicose racists, there's a popular thread of appreciation for Trump's what-you-see-is-what-you-get character. I don't know if Periscope, or Snapchat, or whatever the next hot app is will bridge that gap for other candidates, but I'd bet on them over Fox News or CNN when it comes to seeing what politicians are really like, even if by accident. We learned a lot more about Mitt Romney in a crappy cellphone video than we did in any of his scheduled appearances.
After watching Rand Paul on and off for the past 12 hours, I can't say a real all-day livestream on the campaign trail is something I'd want to watch again. But it might be worth it, if only for that rare moment of emotional honesty that can provide the human connection our political system so often denies us.