October 17, 2014 1:00 PM EDT

Welcome to TIME Subscriber Q&A, with Time Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer. He wrote this week’s cover story on the most interesting man in politics, Rand Paul.

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DonQuixotic asks, Michael, assuming by some long shot that Rand Paul gets the party nomination to be on the ticket for 2016, do you think he’ll look for a more level-headed Republican as his running mate or perhaps someone more divergent from the party line like himself? The past two VP picks – Palin and Ryan – seemed to both be reactionary to circumstances surrounding the Democrats. Do you think Paul would do the same?

Just as John McCain needed someone to electrify the base of the GOP in 2008 with Sarah Palin, Rand Paul would probably need someone to calm the fears of the establishment GOP in Washington and New York. But I can’t predict what he would do, and never asked that question. Still a long way to go before thinking about him winning the nomination. I would say the more pressing question, which I tried to get at in the piece, is how he impacts the GOP, whether or not he wins the nomination.

hivemaster asks, Michael, what are your thoughts on the true intent of the rash of voter ID laws pushed through in the last couple of years?

Voting has changed dramatically over the last decade, with more early voting, absentee voting, same day registration and even vote by mail. For the most part this has benefited Democrats, who tend to do better among those less able or motivated to get to the polls on election day. I see the Republican efforts to impose new rules, from shortening early voting to eliminating same day registration to voter ID, as an attempt to swing the pendulum back the other way. The problem for the GOP, as Paul points out, is that it’s a lot easier to be for more people voting than for less people voting. And Republicans end up hurting themselves with big segments of the electorate for pursuing the strategy.

DonQuixotic asks, Michael, in your most recent article about Rand Paul, The Reinventions of Rand Paul, you mention that the Republican Party has gingerly been embracing the Rand Brand™ as they’ve seen his effects on polls and emerging demographics. Do you believe that’s genuine? That the party isn’t simply putting up with him as the mid term elections approach and that he won’t be rebuffed for other candidates as 2016 approaches?

Paul is not going to get a free pass, and the knives will come out for him. There is a lot of oppo that will be thrown at him from the right, especially on foreign policy, national security and Israel. So I agree that, in a way, he is kind of getting a pass now. But that said, I think a lot of his arguments around criminal justice reform, privacy and the vague opposition to optional foreign policy entanglements are likely to seep into the DNA of the GOP over the coming years.

PaulDirks asks, I recall from election season 2008 that one of your particular topics of interest was earmarks and the abuse thereof. Now that Congress is literally paralyzed, due in part to the lack of horse trading that earmarks represented, have you perchance rethought your position on the topic?

I never had a position on earmarks. My position was on hypocrisy. I thought politicians, mostly on the right, who talked about cutting spending should to be called out for supporting non-essential handouts back home, and that others, mostly on the left, who made a big deal about money in politics and corruption, should be called out for scratching the backs of their donors. I still think that is true.

outsider asks, Hey Mike, Should Paul and Cruz get into a knockdown, drag out battle during the primaries – do you think it’s feasible for either to win against Hillary, should she announce that she’s decided to run? I believe Hillary has already decided to run, hence my phrasing – so i’d like your take on who can actually beat her – specifically from the high profile GOP front runners.

I also think Hillary Clinton is running right now, even though she has not declared. I don’t feel I can predict this far out how a general election would work out, but it’s fair to say that Clinton starts with more assets, in terms of organization, name id, etc., than either Paul or Cruz.

nflfoghorn asks, Mike, do you think the racist views from people connected to Rand’s father will hurt Rand or is he insulated from them?

I think they will come up in a presidential contest, as will his continued opposition to parts of the Civil Rights Act on non-racist ideological grounds. But the Ron Paul newsletters are several degrees removed from Rand, unless new information comes out. Another question is whether the current email campaigns of Ron, which are still pretty fringe, come back to haunt the son.

sacredh asks, with the election just around the corner and the possibility that the democrats squeak by and keep the senate, do you think the division between the republicans in the senate and the republicans in the house will widen if the GOP senators think that the far right in the house kept them from retaking the senate?

I think a Democratic senate win will deepen the identity crises in the GOP. If you can’t win in an off year, with an unpopular president and horrible news cycles, hard to argue that the same message will take the White House in 2016. Conversely, if the GOP wins the Senate, I think some of the excesses of the House GOP will also be tamped down, as Republicans will be forced to have a more positive agenda, not just one based on blocking the Democrats.

deconstructive asks, Michael, if D’s sit on their hands like in 2010 and the R’s take over the Senate (keeping the House looks likely), what agendas do you see the GOP and Tea Party pursuing over the next two years? I wouldn’t be surprised if past ghosts come back, like shutting down the government, eliminating Obamacare, blocking all cabinet, ambassador, and judge appointments, even trying impeachment for real. Would a GOP / TP Senate eliminate the filibuster to keep D’s from mounting any opposition? And so forth. Of course, Obama’s veto power is likely to increase dramatically.

A Senate in GOP hands will be able to be more aggressive with Presidential appointments. They will have more power to cut funding for programs they don’t like, especially if the cuts are targeted enough to not trigger a veto threat. They will also probably make tries at trimming some of the unpopular edges of ObamaCare. Trade deals might happen. But I don’t see the next two years, under either scenario, as being particularly productive.

deconstructive asks, Michael, Rand Paul seems to play to younger audiences, as you note in your profile on him. However, one of the huge issues affecting younger voters is student loan debt, and Rand’s colleagues in the GOP and the Tea Party oppose any relief or reform there. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, makes this one of her main issues. So how does GOP / TP stonewalling on student debt affect Rand’s standing with younger voters, and does Warren gain support at his expense? If Hillary chooses not to run (don’t see why, but anything’s possible) and Elizabeth changes her mind and runs, I could see her attacking Rand on this very issue.

Rand Paul does have a message on student loan debt. At the Rand Paul college event I attended in Columbia, S.C., he proposed expanding the tax credit for student loans and allowing parents to deduct the interest they pay on their children’s college loans. He is basically offering to give money to help people go to college, in much the same way Democrats are, though he would do it through the tax code and offset the costs with cuts elsewhere in the budget. This strategy, I think, sets him apart. He is a Tea Party politician who is perfectly content offering government aide to Democratic voting groups who are used to their politicians offering them government aide.

yogi asks, MS, one of the main talking points by the GOP is that Obama isn’t a leader in world events, how do you see Rand Paul and his philosophy of cutting federal government being an effective leader in world events if he were to become president?

I think that is a big unknown. There would be a lot of concern initially, which he would have to overcome, because of his past statements about zeroing out foreign assistance. How he would play on that stage, I think, is still very much a work in progress, and a reason he is spending so much time meeting behind closed doors to get briefings from foreign policy experts.

deconstructive asks, Michael, how much do you think the Gordian knot of too-low wages, raising the minimum wage, and still-unresolved unemployment will affect the midterm elections? They have been pushed aside in most the mainstream media lately thanks to Ebola, Daesh / ISIL, and spooky headlines, but they still exist and affect many people. So whither the elections from these?

It’s the same story as before. Most people don’t really feel that their personal financial situation is improving, because it is not. This works against the incumbent, because it feeds to the general environment of fear and dissatisfaction. Democrats have tried to deal with this by pushing minimum wage, but most voters who work make more than minimum wage already, so I doubt it will be a major factor.

hivemaster asks, Michael, where do you see the country, in terms of red and blue, in 6 years?

That’s like trying to project the hurricane season six years out. Too much can happen to be sure—wars, economic booms/crashes, terrorist attacks, etc. I can say that the GOP as constituted has a demographic crunch that will make things increasingly uncomfortable, unless they shift tone and policy on some key issues. But in six years, Republicans may have addressed those issues.

yogi asks, MS, now that you’ve gotten to know Rand Paul a little better now, help answer this hypothetical question. Paul as a doctor and a federal government worker (aka Senator), is in a room with a person who appears to have the symptoms of ebola, does he feel the need to help this person or allow the free market to dictate their treatment?

Paul calls himself “libertarianish,” and he doesn’t believe in no government. He would probably look first for free market solutions, but in situations where the nation is under threat, either from foreign adversary or biological bug, he does not oppose government playing a role.

deconstructive asks, Michael, how do you answer this – “The 2014 midterm election is really about ______?” (I asked this to JNS, Alex Altman, and Zeke at their Q+A, and they gave excellent answers, especially Jay …but I’ve really wanted to ask you this, so now it’s your turn.)

The biggest single narrative in this election, just like every other federal election since 2006, is the sense among most voters that the American dream—hard work equals personal prosperity—is a diminishing proposition. Neither party really has an answer for this, which is caused mainly by big forces like globalization and economic cycles, outside the political realm. But the effect is generally anti-incumbent.

yogi asks, MS, what do you think of Rand Paul’s chances at winning the GOP 2016 presidential nomination? He seems to have more support than his dad did especially with his chameleon views, but do you really see big business conservatives, big MIC conservatives, or the Christian right supporting him?

I don’t have a betting line yet. Too early to tell. I guess I would say he probably will have a harder time winning than a more mainstream candidate like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it.

outsider asks, Mike, was the idea of bringing in a replacement for MC from the Washington Examiner a direct result of a desire to bring into Time a more right leaning point of view, or was it coincidence that the person you preferred happened to be right leaning? And, follow up, do you believe that the left does in fact get enough representation in the national media?

Ryan Beckwith, who is fantastic and whom you will all get to know better, is going to be an editor and writer on politics. His hiring is unrelated to Crowley’s departure. And he is a journalist, not a political ideologue. I think all political points of view are probably better represented in the new media space than at any time in recent history. You readers get to choose your own adventure like never before.

deconstructive asks, Michael, we all know you used to work for Mother Jones, and did great stuff there. (Now everyone knows because I just said so, but I digress.) Both are well-known media companies, though I’m guessing they’re both quite different. What are the biggest differences for you between a smaller indie like MJ and a larger corporate global group like TIME …and publicly traded too! I’m also guessing size alone is not the only difference.

The audience is different, so are the business cards, but the work is the same.

deconstructive asks, Michael, why does Rand Paul NOT want to talk about his father in interviews? (Thanks for mentioning that in your profile on him.) Personal conflicts, want to get out from the shadow, skeletons in the closet? Of course, you can’t ask HIM on that since he won;t talk about it, but it looks like (from your profile) his staff makes that clear not to bring Dad up. So when they say, “Don’t ask about Ron,” you ask why not, they say, “because ______?”

Like George W. Bush, he does not want to be defined by his father. He is also different in important ways from his father. Finally, he wants to run a different kind of campaign than his father, with far broader appeal.

DonQuixotic asks, Michael, do you view your recent kerfuffle with Richard Grenell as reflective of the combative, partisan nature right wing media has evolved into?

It is reflective of the current technological space, where joyful pugilists like Grenell get to throw punches from their cell phones, and sometimes get a hook returned their way.

MementoMori asks, The protests continue, with arrests this weekend including Cornel West. Michael Brown is still dead. Darren Wilson is still a free man and a cop. Additionally, thousands of voters have been registered and motivated, as an extension of the protester’s efforts, and an election is not that far away. The question is: Why has the media abandoned Ferguson?

I don’t think it has been abandoned. But the wall-to-wall coverage has dissipated. We are still covering.

yogi asks, MS, how do you see Rand Paul’s expanding the GOP voter base play out? Sure he’s gone to speaking events at the NAACP and at Ferguson, MO, yet one look at TIME’s pictures (https://time.com/3510500/rand-paul-gop-road/) for the profile on Paul appears he’s still speaking to a mainly white male group. Example image 2 is at University of South Carolina which 2013 demographics list males at 46% of the undergraduate and minorities at 20%. (http://sc.edu/admissions/learn/fastfacts.html) So how does Paul expand the GOP base without losing what appears to be his primary constituency, white males?

I don’t know how this plays out. I do know that several past attempts to broaden appeal of GOP in black communities have failed. I think this process, if it is to succeed, will take more than one or two election cycles.

yogi asks, MS, many profiles of politicians and corporate CEOs by the media seem to fall either in one of two camps: stenographer side of reporting what the interviewee said verbatim or investigative side of questioning the interviewee and trying to get answers to real issues the interviewee has said/dealt with. Which side do you hope TIME’s profiles should fall onto?

I try to write in the magazine tradition, which is more subjective and more narrative. My goal is to not just tell the reader what the facts are, but to take the reader on a bit of a journey, one that hopefully goes a bit behind the scenes. So I am not sure I agree with the binary choice you offered. Both and neither, and sometimes more one than the other.

forgottenlord asks, As much as I love that Rick Scott is totally wearing the fan incident, there is no question that Crist broke the rules by having the fan and won because of how it played out. As a moderator, how, if possible, would you be able to avoid such an incident and ensure that the rules are followed and nobody would benefit from abusing them?

I think the moderator in that situation should do what the moderator did. Explain to voters what was happening, what the rules said, and then get on with the debate. The voters will decide who should be punished for their behavior.

deconstructive asks, Michael, what do you think the election’s October Surprise will be, if any?

I am not able to predict the thing that no one expects. But the combination of Ebola and ISIS have reshaped this race in the final months already.

Thanks for the questions. It’s always fun. Keep reading and commenting. And please do what you can to convince all your friends to subscribe. You are in the best position to know whether or not the money is worth it.

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