(Author’s note: This piece appears today on The Daily Beast and here is your chance to weigh in on Paul’s dilemma.)
Currently the Republican Party has a crowded bench of 2016 presidential hopefuls.
They include: 2012 left-over Rick Santorum; the “I may run but please disregard my last name,” Jeb Bush; the Republican in the Senate most hated by other Senate Republicans, Ted Cruz; Chris Christie who is busy “bridging” his credibility gap; “I’d rather be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee than president,” Paul Ryan; “You loved me once but will you ever love me again?” Marco Rubio; and finally, newly crowned front-runner Rand Paul.
It appears that Paul has a knack for generating provocative headlines like “Rand Paul, Republican presidential hopeful, finds support in Berkeley, of all places” and shaking up a party that is in desperate need of shaking—if my party is ever going to retake the White House in my lifetime.
With Paul’s national profile on an upward trajectory, I asked Daily Beast contributor Mark McKinnon (who has the distinction of being the last GOP media strategist to successfully elect a Republican president in 2004) to share his thoughts on Paul.
“It’s hard to put him in a traditional box and that is good for the GOP,” McKinnon said. “He has an anti-interventionist, anti-drone, anti-NSA, and pro-drug legalization message that could have strong appeal to millennials.”
What McKinnon said rings true because Paul is now successfully engaging young audiences, even those with 180 degrees of political separation.
For Paul to be receiving standing ovations from CPAC and Berkeley crowds, without wiping a cream pie off his face, he must be doing something right.
Senator Paul’s national poll numbers are also looking up.
In a general election match-up against presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, he only loses by 5 points in a March 14 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. (PPP)
This result was a vast improvement compared to a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted in early February when Clinton trounced Paul by 18 points, 57—39.
For the record, in this same March 14 PPP poll Hillary Clinton defeated Jeb Bush by the smallest margin of only 3 points, 47—44.
Even though Bush polls the best out of all the GOP candidates against Clinton, it is Rand Paul who is gathering the “big mo” for 2016.
However, looming ahead is a life-changing, career-altering, king-sized decision that Paul will be forced to make early next year— because current Kentucky law prevents any candidate’s name from appearing on the same ballot twice.
This law is a tad inconvenient for Paul since he is up for reelection to the senate in 2016, and potential Kentucky GOP senate candidates will be pressuring him for an early decision.
If Paul decides to seek the Republican presidential nomination and loses, or manages to win the nomination but loses the general election—Senator Paul reverts back to Dr. Paul, practicing ophthalmology under the constraints of Obamacare.
Alternatively, Paul could just coast to an easy senate reelection and enjoy life on the 2016 sidelines. Either way, it must be a gut-wrenching decision for him.
Help may be on the way, however. On March 18, the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate passed a bill “clarifying the current law” so Paul’s name could appear on the same ballot for both president and senator in 2016.
This bill may not pass through the Democrat-controlled state House, though.
As reported recently in National Journal: “Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo has shot the idea down. ‘If you’re gonna run, you oughta make up your mind and run for one office and one office only,’ Stumbo said last month.”
One can surmise from Speaker Stumbo that Kentucky Democrats will not be offering Senator Paul any seat-warming insurance while he blazes the cold primary trails of New Hampshire.
Furthermore, it is likely that Kentucky’s Democratic governor Steve Beshear would veto the bill should it even reach his desk.
Perhaps Rand Paul will make his decision by following the wisdom offered in the old proverb that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
Then, will Jeb Bush play his hand?