Susan Walsh, Associated Press
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., waves to the crowd after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 7, 2014. Paul sat down for a brief Q&A with Deseret News National reporter Eric Schulzke in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 17, 2014.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is a pivotal figure among the new breed of libertarian-leaning Tea Party Republican senators, a group that includes Sen. Lee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and, to a lesser extent, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Paul is openly mulling a presidential run in 2016, taking the torch from his father, Ron Paul, the former congressman and perennial libertarian standard bearer in GOP presidential primaries. The Kentucky legislature last week deliberated a change to state law that would allow Paul to run for reelection in the GOP primary there while also running for the presidential nomination.

Paul was in Salt Lake City on Monday to do a fundraiser for Sen. Mike Lee’s re-election campaign. The Deseret News sat down with him for a quick chat.

Deseret News: You say the GOP needs to lighten up on social issues to get younger voters, but younger voters also favor a more expansive welfare state. How do you balance that when you are trying to get that demographic?

Rand Paul: I’m not sure I agree with the premise. I would say that when you live at home and your parents provide for you, communism sounds great. When you begin thinking about your first job and your parents are supplementing you, socialism sounds pretty good. But then when you get out and pay your taxes and see how much of your check is gone, capitalism becomes more appealing. So I think it is an evolution for kids. I don’t know who it was who said, “If you’re under 30 and you’re not a liberal you don’t have a heart, but if you’re over 30 and you’re not a conservative, you don’t have a brain.”

DN: You were not named after Ayn Rand, the libertarian novelist and philosopher, but everyone thinks you were. What do you like about her philosophy and what don’t you like?

RP: Now we’ve gotten into a really long discussion. I’ll give you the encapsulated part. I’m a Christian and I believe in God, so we have immediate separation on that issue. I think that her belief that people act in their self-interest and that actually helps people is a bit like the invisible hand of Adam Smith, but I think that in accepting that she obscured the fact that we are our brother’s keeper and we do have an obligation to help our fellow man. Part of her offers a good defense of capitalism. But part of her loses the soul or happiness of life because she lacks any religious underpinnings for her philosophy.

DN: Following on that, Friedrich Hayek favored some form of a social safety net. What is your view of the appropriate social safety net?

RP: I’m for a social safety net, but it should be minimized to helping those who can’t help themselves. Disability should go to those who are not able bodied. I often say in my speeches, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be putting up a handicapped sticker and collecting disability. So I think we actually hurt people who we could help with the safety net when we expand it so far that we include people who really can help themselves.

DN: What would you tell Iowans about ethanol?

RP: I think that no business should be subsidized. The reason we have efficiency and the reason you can go to Target and get a shirt like this for $7.99, which is probably what I paid for this shirt — you won’t tell anyone, right? — the reason is that capitalism works to create goods because you let people sell what people want, and you let them purchase it as a competitive price. And that’s the same way for fuel.

DN: The GOP leaders are really struggling to convince people that the debt ceiling hikes need to stop and Paul Ryan’s effort to focus on the entitlement crisis has kind of fizzled. How do you convince people that a crisis is at hand when they prefer to look the other way?

RP: I think a significant bulk of the people do think that a crisis is at hand. We’ve borrowed so much money that the repercussions are even immediate now. I don’t think I have to convince people that there is a crisis. I think if you ask people how many of them think we should raise the debt ceiling without preconditions or without any changes in the way we spend money, I think it’s an 80 or 90 percent issue. So when Mike Lee and I stand up and vote against raising the debt ceiling … They didn’t even raise it. It’s infinite. It’s whatever you can spend over 13 months.

DN: Why does the GOP leadership cave on preconditions on raising the debt ceiling if the public is behind them?

RP: I’m not sure I have an answer to that question.