Rand Paul’s New Confidant

Why the Kentucky senator and Nate Morris became fast friends.

© Joe Harrison, JH Photography Inc
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Shane Goldmacher
June 18, 2014, 4 p.m.

As the bus came to a stop near the Dead Sea, Nate Mor­ris and the rest of the gang had one ques­tion: Would Rand Paul jump in? “It was a big joke, be­cause we were all won­der­ing,” re­calls the 33-year-old busi­ness­man, who was part of a large group vis­it­ing Is­rael with Ken­tucky’s ju­ni­or sen­at­or. Paul quickly answered in the af­firm­at­ive. He took off his hik­ing boots, an or­ange but­ton-down, and a gray “Army Strong” un­der­shirt, then waded in­to the salty wa­ters wear­ing flowered swim trunks. He smeared mud across his cheeks and his bare chest; he raised his arms in tri­umph.

It was Janu­ary 2013, and Mor­ris was one of some 50 Amer­ic­ans who had joined Paul for the tour of Is­rael. Al­though Pres­id­ent Obama hadn’t even tech­nic­ally be­gun his second term, Paul’s trip clearly had im­plic­a­tions for the next pres­id­en­tial race. The des­tin­a­tion it­self sug­ges­ted he was seek­ing to re­as­sure es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans that he did not share the hos­til­ity of his fath­er — GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Ron Paul — to the Jew­ish state. The guest list, mean­while, read like the mani­fest of a ship bound for 2016. The state party chair­men of Iowa and South Car­o­lina were there, along with Iowa’s Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee­wo­man and key re­li­gious lead­ers. When I asked Dav­id Lane — the polit­ic­ally act­ive evan­gel­ic­al lead­er who or­gan­ized the trip — how the in­vit­ees had been chosen, he answered with a ques­tion of his own: “What are the first pres­id­en­tial primary states of 2016?”

Yet Nate Mor­ris, a Ken­tucky res­id­ent, did not hail from an early-primary state. Nor was he a re­li­gious lead­er. Nor was he par­tic­u­larly vo­cal about Is­rael. Nor did he even know Paul all that well: The two had met only a few months be­fore.

So why was Mor­ris on the trip? Ken­tucky is not ex­actly a rich state, but Mor­ris had carved out a repu­ta­tion as a man with a tal­ent for shak­ing loose cam­paign cash. Back in 2004, he was, at 23, by all ac­counts the coun­try’s young­est bund­ler for George W. Bush, rais­ing at least $50,000 and be­com­ing a “Bush Mav­er­ick.” His list of con­tacts had only grown in the years since. “People in polit­ics know who raises money,” Mor­ris says. “That’s not a secret.” In short, Mor­ris was just the kind of money­man Paul needed if he was go­ing to pur­sue his pres­id­en­tial am­bi­tions.

But in the 18 months since they rode around Is­rael to­geth­er, Nate Mor­ris has be­come much more than just a fun­draiser for Paul. He is today an in­teg­ral part of the Ken­tucky sen­at­or’s polit­ic­al in­fra­struc­ture: one of Paul’s most trus­ted ad­visers and — per­haps most im­port­ant for a politi­cian with a cloistered repu­ta­tion — a friend.

“I think Nate and Rand are as close as Rand is to any­body in the polit­ic­al world,” says Dan Bay­ens, Paul’s Ken­tucky com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or and the man who in­tro­duced them. Paul es­tim­ates they’ve “been to­geth­er 50 times or 75 times” since they first met in 2012. “I’d con­sider Nate to be in the in­ner circle of people we take ad­vice from and who helps us on a daily basis,” the sen­at­or re­cently told me. One seni­or Paul ad­viser says of Mor­ris, “He’s go­ing to be one of the top four, five, or six people on the cam­paign.”

Mor­ris is a re­l­at­ive new­comer to a Rand Paul kit­chen Cab­in­et full of vet­er­ans of his fath­er’s two pres­id­en­tial bids. There’s John Tate, an in­form­al Rand ad­viser who held seni­or posts on the eld­er Paul’s 2008 and 2012 cam­paigns and is now pres­id­ent of the Ron Paul-foun­ded Cam­paign for Liberty. Doug Stafford, who pre­vi­ously worked with Tate, is now the sen­at­or from Ken­tucky’s chief polit­ic­al strategist and ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of RAND (Re­in­vent­ing A New Dir­ec­tion) PAC. Jesse Benton, an­oth­er vet­er­an of the Ron Paul pres­id­en­tial bids, ran the young­er Paul’s 2010 Sen­ate cam­paign; he re­mains close to the can­did­ate, is mar­ried to Rand’s niece, and is ex­pec­ted to have a seni­or role in any 2016 cam­paign. Paul’s me­dia con­sult­ant is Rex Elsass, who worked on Ron Paul’s 2008 bid. His dir­ect-mail fund- raiser, Mi­chael Roth­feld of Saber Com­mu­nic­a­tions, is the same one Rand’s fath­er used. So is his poll­ster, Fritz Wen­zel.

Paul bristles at the suggestion that his relationship with Morris is overtly political. (Courtesy of Nate Morris) Courtesy of Nate Morris

Paul bristles at the sug­ges­tion that his re­la­tion­ship with Mor­ris is overtly polit­ic­al. (Cour­tesy of Nate Mor­ris)Mor­ris is very dif­fer­ent from this group. He’s a main­stream Re­pub­lic­an with no ma­jor ties to Paul’s fath­er but plenty of links to the GOP es­tab­lish­ment. His moneyed con­nec­tions span from coast to coast, and his main­stream ped­i­gree even in­cludes his wife, the grand­daugh­ter of a le­gendary Re­pub­lic­an fun­draiser.

When Paul first ran for the Sen­ate four years ago, against a can­did­ate favored by the GOP donor class, he “was ri­diculed and lam­basted and ig­nored as vig­or­ously as he pos­sibly could have been” by the es­tab­lish­ment, says Dav­id Adams, who was Paul’s 2010 primary cam­paign man­ager. Today, Paul’s re­la­tion­ship with the GOP’s power brokers has changed dra­mat­ic­ally — and Mor­ris is both a symp­tom and a cause of that trans­form­a­tion. Un­der­stand­ing who Nate Mor­ris is — what he be­lieves and how he op­er­ates — tells you a lot about the new Rand Paul.

WHEN PEOPLE TALK about Mor­ris, they sound eer­ily like people talk­ing about a young Bill Clin­ton. South­ern boy (Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky, versus Hope, Arkan­sas) raised by a single mom (fath­er de­par­ted versus fath­er died) vis­its Wash­ing­ton in high school (both through Boys Na­tion — Mor­ris met Clin­ton; Clin­ton met JFK), moves to D.C. for col­lege, then works for a power­ful home-state sen­at­or (Mitch Mc­Con­nell versus J. Wil­li­am Ful­bright). Nat­ur­al pols, they make fast friends and last­ing im­pres­sions.

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Born to a fam­ily of Re­agan Demo­crats, Mor­ris grew up fas­cin­ated by polit­ics. He was pres­id­ent of his ele­ment­ary school and was close to his grand­fath­er, who was a loc­al United Auto Work­ers lead­er. Nate’s views, however, leaned more to the right. The first week of his first semester at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity in 1999, Mor­ris headed to Cap­it­ol Hill, snap­ping up an in­tern­ship with Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Anne Northup of Ken­tucky. By the time he gradu­ated, he’d done stints in Sen. Mc­Con­nell’s of­fice; the of­fice of Mc­Con­nell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who was Pres­id­ent Bush’s Labor sec­ret­ary at the time; and the new Home­land Se­cur­ity of­fice at the White House. Des­pite his age, he man­aged to leave an im­pres­sion. “Nate,” Mc­Con- nell said back in 2004, “is the kind of kid you re­mem­ber.”

When Mor­ris first ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton, he moved in­to the old Howard John­son hotel, across from the Wa­ter­gate, which GW had re­cently con­ver­ted in­to a dorm. He had entered an es­say con­test and won a room on the sev­enth floor, where, a quarter-cen­tury earli­er, the Wa­ter­gate burg­lars had set up a lookout. A Wash­ing­ton Post story about the new dorm tagged Mor­ris an “as­pir­ing politi­cian.” “He’s already known in the dorm as a nat­ur­al cam­paign­er — he knows nearly every­one’s name, ma­jor, and ho­met­own,” the pa­per wrote. Shawn Costa, who lived on the same floor and is now in the real-es­tate busi­ness, re­mem­bers be­ing im­pressed — and in­tim­id­ated. “When I saw how ser­i­ous people like Nate were, I backed off poli sci and ended up be­ing a busi­ness ma­jor,” Costa laughs.

Mor­ris’s biggest break, though, came in the classroom. Jack Oliv­er, then Bush’s chief fun­draiser, was teach­ing a gradu­ate-level course on money in polit­ics. Even though he was only an un­der­grad, Mor­ris pe­ti­tioned a dean for an ex­emp­tion to snag a spot. Oliv­er quickly took Mor­ris un­der his wing and, when he gradu­ated a few months later, en­rolled him in Bush’s Mav­er­ick pro­gram, which was de­signed to en­cour­age the next gen­er­a­tion of fun­draisers un­der 40. “It was very ob­vi­ous to me this was a young man that was go­ing places,” Oliv­er says. He notes that, of all his stu­dents, Mor­ris is the only one in polit­ics whom “I still keep in touch with.”

Not long after gradu­at­ing and be­com­ing a Bush bund­ler, Mor­ris moved to China for a busi­ness teach­ing fel­low­ship. Dur­ing his time there, he worked for Ken­tucky’s in­ter­na­tion­al trade of­fice in the coun­try. “I just kind of showed up and said, ‘Look, I’m a Ken­tucki­an. I’m here,’ ” Mor­ris re­calls. “I think they were kind of taken aback.”

“Nate Mor­ris is like that guy in Shawshank Re­demp­tion who just knows how to make things hap­pen.”

After re­turn­ing to the States, he en­rolled in the gradu­ate pro­gram at Prin­ceton’s Woo­drow Wilson School, where — no sur­prise — he soon found him­self study­ing un­der former Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Bill Frist. Mor­ris sub­sequently moved back to Ken­tucky and, in Au­gust 2009, cofoun­ded a com­pany called Ru­bicon Glob­al, which he calls “the Uber of garbage.” The com­pany’s aim is noth­ing less than to upend the waste in­dustry. Ru­bicon doesn’t own any trash trucks or land­fills. In­stead, it uses tech­no­logy to match cli­ents to a net­work of loc­al vendors who can take away their waste, of­ten to be re­cycled on the cheap. The goal is to di­vert trash from the dump and save cli­ents money along the way. “This is a mar­ket-driv­en solu­tion to an en­vir­on­ment­al prob­lem,” Mor­ris says.

Mor­ris is mod­est about Ru­bicon. “I’m just a garbage­man,” he tells me over break­fast, as he spins his fork around a plate of three egg whites and two ve­g­gie pat­ties. (We are at Doodles, a res­taur­ant in Lex­ing­ton, which Mor­ris picked. It goes by the tagline “com­fort food with a con­science.”) Ru­bicon is still a private com­pany so it keeps its books closed, but it ap­pears to be a suc­cess, boast­ing that it serves ap­prox­im­ately 50,000 sites in all 50 states, with of­fices in Geor­gia, Ken­tucky, New York, and Vir­gin­ia.

Ru­bicon’s busi­ness ad­vis­ory board reads like a who’s who of the GOP es­tab­lish­ment: In ad­di­tion to Mor­ris’s ment­or Jack Oliv­er, oth­er board mem­bers in­clude former Mis­souri Gov. Matt Blunt, now the head of the auto lobby; former At­tor­ney Gen­er­al John Ash­croft; and Blakely Page, an as­so­ci­ate of the Koch broth­ers. In­deed, Mor­ris’s reach is le­gendary. “Nate Mor­ris is like that guy in Shawshank Re­demp­tion who just knows how to make things hap­pen,” says Holly Har­ris VonLuehrte, chief of staff to James Comer, the Ken­tucky ag­ri­cul­ture com­mis­sion­er widely viewed as the front-run­ner for the GOP gubernat­ori­al nom­in­a­tion in 2015 (for whom Mor­ris also fun­draises). “He knows every­body.”

This is by design. “One of the things that Jack Oliv­er preached to me from day one is that so much of suc­cess in polit­ics is around long-term friend­ships, loy­al friend­ships, really build­ing a rap­port with some­body and de­vel­op­ing this long-term per­spect­ive about mak­ing friends, as op­posed to go­ing out and find­ing donors,” Mor­ris says. “If you’ve got friends, they’re go­ing to be with you through thick and thin, and they’re go­ing to help you re­gard­less of polit­ic­al cli­mate or what you’re fa­cing. If you can stay fo­cused on build­ing re­la­tion­ships, with in­teg­rity and around loy­alty, that’s really the most im­port­ant thing.”

(Joe Harrison) © Joe Harrison, JH Photography Inc

(Joe Har­ris­on)Mor­ris’s most im­port­ant re­la­tion­ship, the one with his wife, Jane Mos­bach­er, began on a blind date in Geor­getown. Six months later, they were en­gaged. They wed on New Year’s Eve 2011. Jane Mos­bach­er Mor­ris has deep ties to the GOP es­tab­lish­ment of her own: Her fath­er ran the Over­seas Private In­vest­ment Corp. in George W. Bush’s White House. And her grand­fath­er was Robert Mos­bach­er Sr. — an oil mogul, one­time Com­merce sec­ret­ary, and le­gendary Re­pub­lic­an fun­draiser who served as a top pres­id­en­tial money­man, be­gin­ning with Ger­ald Ford in 1976 and end­ing with John Mc­Cain in 2008.

MOR­RIS MET RAND PAUL on Cap­it­ol Hill in the sum­mer of 2012, shortly be­fore the Au­gust con­gres­sion­al re­cess. They hit it off al­most im­me­di­ately. Paul loved the story of Ru­bicon. Here was a young private busi­ness­man tack­ling a pub­lic prob­lem, which sim­ul­tan­eously ap­pealed to Paul’s liber­tari­an polit­ic­al in­stincts and to his self-de­scribed “Crunchy Con” brand of con­ser­vat­ism. “The busi­ness mod­el is awe­some and something we love,” says Doug Stafford, Paul’s chief polit­ic­al strategist.

Paul in­vited Mor­ris to Is­rael, and Mor­ris began to put Paul in touch with GOP con­trib­ut­ors. “Cer­tainly, my back­ground with the more es­tab­lish­ment types and be­ing in­volved in Bush World in ‘04, that cer­tainly al­lows me to go dif­fer­ent places and draw from that net­work,” Mor­ris says. Mor­ris joined Paul on do­mest­ic trips, ar­ran­ging meet­ings with tech elites in Cali­for­nia and banker types in New York. In Texas, Mor­ris set up a Feb­ru­ary meet­ing between Paul and George P. Bush, the can­did­ate for state lands com­mis­sion­er and the son of a po­ten­tial 2016 op­pon­ent, Jeb Bush. This spring, Mor­ris helped ar­range a Man­hat­tan sit-down with wealthy in­vestor Herb Al­len III. It was a suc­cess not just be­cause Al­len wrote Paul a $1,000 check but, more im­port­antly, be­cause he sub­sequently in­vited Paul to at­tend his an­nu­al sum­mit of the wealthy and power­ful in Sun Val­ley, Idaho.

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Of course, Paul has one fin­an­cial ad­vant­age that oth­er Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates won’t have: a loy­al grass­roots army of liber­tari­an-lean­ing donors who helped fuel his fath­er’s $40 mil­lion 2012 cam­paign. But Rand won’t be able to win the pres­id­ency with these small-dol­lar donors alone. He’ll need the kinds of uber-wealthy be­ne­fact­ors who shunned his fath­er — and that’s where Mor­ris helps. “He’s been get­ting Rand meet­ings with people who, a couple years ago, wouldn’t give him the time of day,” says the seni­or Paul ad­viser. (Mor­ris is un­paid for this work. Paul’s form­al money op­er­a­tion is headed by Erika Sath­er, a former Club for Growth fun­draiser. Oth­er key fig­ures in Paul’s fin­an­cial in­ner circle in­clude pro­fess­or and writer Mal­lory Factor, who was also on the Is­rael trip, and fel­low Ken­tucki­an Cathy Bailey.) “Prob­ably what im­pressed me the most is that a lot of people of­fer to do things,” Paul says of Mor­ris. “He just star­ted do­ing things. It’s really the fol­low-up. He’s some­body who takes the bull by the horns and just takes ac­tion.” As Stafford puts it, “Nate is a good friend who be­lieves in Rand. He wants to go out and, for lack of a bet­ter word, evan­gel­ize on that sub­ject.”

Among those Mor­ris has helped con­nect Paul with is his fath­er-in-law, Robert Mos­bach­er Jr. It was a re­union of sorts. “Jane’s dad ac­tu­ally was a primary op­pon­ent of my dad in 1984,” Paul says. They both lost the GOP primary to Phil Gramm. But Rand and Mos­bach­er Jr. had de­bated at one point when a 21-year old Paul filled in for his fath­er. “It was neat for me to be on the stage with a very suc­cess­ful oil­man from a very fam­ous fam­ily,” Paul says.

WITH THICK BROWN hair and still-boy­ish looks, Mor­ris is pol­ished bey­ond his years. He can speak in sound bites that don’t sound canned — at least the first time you hear them. Over break­fast at Doodles, he re­counts to me the story of Col­on­el Har­land Sanders, the founder of KFC, and how he “got the idea to fran­chise chick­en” and took his “show on the road.” Mor­ris then re­peats him­self, al­most ver­batim, in a speech hours later at an event sponsored by the loc­al cham­ber of com­merce.

Mor­ris speaks with con­fid­ence — un­til I ask about his per­son­al polit­ics. At that point, he be­gins to spin his wed­ding ring and rub his temples. His an­swer me­anders un­til he settles on a mil­quetoast for­mu­la­tion: “My biggest is­sue is mak­ing sure people have ac­cess to the Amer­ic­an Dream.” Friends and col­leagues don’t talk about Mor­ris in tra­di­tion­al ideo­lo­gic­al terms. They talk about his ideo­logy of suc­cess. Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, Mor­ris even­tu­ally defines his polit­ics as “pretty con­ser­vat­ive,” but he won’t name an is­sue on which he dis­agrees with Paul. “I’m not go­ing to be an arm­chair quar­ter­back,” he says.

If Mor­ris sounds like an ul­tra­cau­tious politi­cian, there’s prob­ably good reas­on for that. It’s widely pre­sumed in Ken­tucky that he will someday run for of­fice.

This isn’t the first time Mor­ris has had dif­fi­culty ar­tic­u­lat­ing what he be­lieves. Back in 2004, the Lex­ing­ton Her­ald-Lead­er pub­lished a piece about the young bund­ler that read, “Ask Mor­ris what his cause is “¦ and the an­swer’s un­clear.” The con­trast with the prin­cipled, ideo­logy-ob­sessed liber­tari­an world of Rand Paul’s fath­er could hardly be great­er.

If Mor­ris sounds like an ul­tra­cau­tious politi­cian, there’s prob­ably good reas­on for that. It’s widely pre­sumed in Ken­tucky that he will someday run for of­fice. “I can­not ima­gine a fu­ture without Nate Mor­ris on a bal­lot,” says VonLuehrte, Comer’s chief of staff. “I can’t ima­gine it.” He’s already on Comer’s short list for run­ning mate as lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor. Though no form­al vet­ting has be­gun, Comer says he has a Google Alert for Mor­ris set up. “He’s in the news all the time,” Comer tells me. “This guy is go­ing places!” (Mor­ris says he is cur­rently fo­cused on Ru­bicon, not a polit­ic­al ca­reer.)

Mor­ris does have strong feel­ings on one key point: that the GOP needs to change in or­der to suc­ceed. “Look, you can only get kicked in the face so many times and you’ve got to say, this isn’t work­ing,” he tells me. “I think ne­ces­sity is the moth­er of all in­ven­tions. The situ­ation we’re in today is that we have to re­think everything as a party. We have to re­in­vent the brand. We have to kick down bar­ri­ers and doors that typ­ic­ally pre­ven­ted oth­ers from get­ting in. “¦ I think Sen­at­or Paul has demon­strated he’s able to have those con­ver­sa­tions and to really ar­tic­u­late those types of themes.”

In ad­di­tion to a con­vic­tion that the GOP must rebrand it­self, Mor­ris has one oth­er thing in com­mon with many sup­port­ers of Ron and Rand Paul: his age. But here, too, he is dif­fer­ent. “The Ron Paul move­ment had a lot of young people, not really young pro­fes­sion­als,” says Comer, who was the only mem­ber of the Ken­tucky State­house to en­dorse Paul dur­ing his 2010 primary. “Nate com­ple­ments the base that Rand in­her­ited, plus he adds to it.”

NOT SUR­PRIS­INGLY, Paul bristles a bit at the sug­ges­tion that his re­la­tion­ship with Mor­ris is overtly polit­ic­al. “I guess I don’t really see things so cal­cu­lat­ing. “¦ I just see Nate as some­body I met and who I like,” Paul says. Clas­si­fic­a­tions are just not his thing. “I don’t think it’s so much, ‘Oh, he is this cat­egory of per­son.’ I just sort of see him for who he is. But does he work hard to meet people for his busi­ness as well as for help­ing me to meet people? Yeah, he’s been a great and very valu­able ally in that sense. I just wouldn’t cat­egor­ize him as some­body who I say, ‘Oh, I met him for this pur­pose.’ I guess I see people not so much in cat­egor­ies as just people we’ve de­veloped a good friend­ship with.”

Sen. Rand Paul addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 7. (Getty Images) National Journal

Sen. Rand Paul ad­dresses the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence on March 7. (Getty Im­ages)It’s un­deni­able, however, that Mor­ris is hav­ing an im­pact on Paul’s pres­id­en­tial pro­spects. Their friend­ship is hardly the only link Paul has built to the GOP es­tab­lish­ment in re­cent years — for in­stance, his former aide Benton is cur­rently serving as Mc­Con­nell’s cam­paign chief — but it is one that is clearly pay­ing off.

Mor­ris’s com­ing-out party of sorts as a play­er in Paul’s world took place this past Janu­ary when he or­gan­ized a fun­draiser at the At­lanta home of Lane Moore, the ex­ec­ut­ive chair­man of Ru­bicon Glob­al. Paul lingered for a long time as the crowd munched on a spread of ten­der­loin, shrimp, and sal­mon. Pro­ceeds went to Paul’s Sen­ate reelec­tion cam­paign — though, like all the money he’s rais­ing these days, it could even­tu­ally be trans­ferred to a fu­ture pres­id­en­tial bid.

The event was timed to co­in­cide with a Ru­bicon in­vestors’ con­fer­ence, so Blunt, the former Mis­souri gov­ernor, was among the at­tendees. “Any po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate would be for­tu­nate to have some­body like Nate out there beat­ing the bushes for him,” Blunt told me. Jack Oliv­er, who says his “goal is to get Jeb Bush to run,” was non­ethe­less on the host com­mit­tee. In a mat­ter of hours, Paul col­lec­ted an es­tim­ated $150,000. “That,” the sen­at­or told me, “was a big suc­cess.”

He’s go­ing to need many more sim­il­ar suc­cesses if he’s to cap­ture the pres­id­ency. And Mor­ris, it ap­pears, will be there to help. “With people like Nate Mor­ris, he ap­peals to your Rom­ney donors, which is something his fath­er could nev­er do, ever,” Comer says. Paul, he con­tin­ues, wants to ap­peal to those donors “be­cause you have to do that to win. Rand is run­ning to win. He’s not run­ning to make a state­ment or to prove a point. He’s run­ning to win.”

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