Overcoming Paul (Ron, that is...)

140212132951-08-rand-paul-0212-restricted-horizontal-galleryKentucky [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] looks to be a candidate for President in 2016 for the GOP.  Like the presumed choice of the more establishment Republican, Jeb Bush, this Paul must overcome his last name.

Some political pundits find it interesting that the elder Paul is a pariah within the GOP.  A great degree of Ron Paul’s policies dovetail nicely with conservative Republican policies- smaller government, greater states rights, etc.  However, these beliefs sometimes lead into strange territories, especially foreign policy and national defense.  It is the area of foreign policy that most drew the ire of the GOP when it came to Ron Paul.  His non-interventionist, almost isolationist policy proposals and comments diverged dramatically from Republican orthodoxy in this area.  With foreign policy looming as a large issue come 2016, Rand’s views will be even more highly scrutinized.

But, Ron Paul’s foreign policy positions were nicely aligned with his overall policy of a smaller government.  He often vociferously noted that mainstream Republicans were all for smaller government domestically, but not in foreign affairs.  Granted, sometimes the discussion strayed off into strange accusations bordering on conspiracy theory.  Cognizant of the fact that Ron Paul has few fans here at Redstate, one thing is certain: right or wrong, Ron Paul was perceived as perhaps the most principled politician whether we liked those principles or not.  He did not gain the moniker “Dr. No” for no reason.

Hence, Paul enters the campaign with the baggage of his last name, just like Jeb Bush.  The task, therefore, is to put enough distance between himself and that name without alienating the base that supports the last name.  It is, to say the least, a tough tightrope balancing act.

And so far, Rand is proving to be a much better politician than his father ever was who seemed to regale in his outsider position.  Unlike Ron Paul, Rand appeals to a larger base rather than just the decreasing-in-size libertarian wing of the Republican Party.  He has positioned himself not only against the Democratic Party, but against the establishment wing of the GOP.

Nate Silver has a great Venn diagram of the various factions in the GOP and names five: the religious right which gravitates towards candidates like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and remains a viable force within the GOP although certainly less so than 2000 when Bush won them over.  Their clout has decreased as other factions have increased in importance, but they remain strong, especially on social issues.  Then there are the libertarians which are a declining force in the Republican Party.  Rand Paul has this group by virtue of that last name.  The moderate/reformers are also losing clout at the expense of the Tea Party which is a tough group to categorize.  Although they share much in common with the religious Right, they are less into the social issues and more into the fiscal issues.  Finally, there is the establishment types who, Silver asserts, attempt to build coalitions and are more bipartisan than the other groups.  Their ability to build coalitions likely explains why they emerge from the primaries with the nomination since the process is nothing but a series of building coalitions.  The key is to capture three of the five categories to gain a majority of delegates.

For Paul, he has the smallest faction- the libertarians- locked up.  They are estimated to be about 10% of the GOP electorate- clearly not enough to win a nomination and probably the reason Ron Paul made noise, but never succeeded.  He showed no inclination to play with the other groups.  Rand is different.  His immigration reform ideas may play to the moderate wing although he recently was forced to walk back certain comments he made before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce lest he alienate another wing of the party.

Most importantly, Paul has shown a willingness to dabble with the establishment wing, something his father would never do.  For example, although not a major money player, his leadership PAC did donate to Roberts, Ernst, McConnell, Brown and Tillis in the most recent midterm elections.  He showed up to support Ernst in person.  Unlike his father, he has shown a willingness to play nice with the establishment figures in electoral politics while distancing himself from some of their policy positions.

Another important aspect to Rand Paul is the fact that he inherits a rabid Paul fan base spread throughout the country.  Besides being a fundraising base, there is a supporting organization that never really disassembled after 2012.  And Ron Paul’s 2012 performance using that base cannot be easily dismissed.  In the wake of that performance, Jim DeMint stated that he wished the GOP would be more inclusive of libertarian views.  He also said one cannot be fiscally conservative without being socially conservative.  Rand Paul proves the opposite.

This creates an electoral conundrum.  Beginning in the 1990s, libertarian views within the GOP have come under attack.  From 1972 to 1988, the GOP could count on 69% of their vote; today less than 50%.  Part of this erosion of support is due to the rise of the religious right and the Tea Party, but a lot has to do with its purge at the hands of the moderates and establishment.  The champion of libertarian Republicans- Ron Paul- grated on the collective nerves of the party in the area of foreign policy.  They regularly rolled their eyes when talk of the Federal Reserve came up.  They grimaced every time Paul drifted into conspiracy theories.  In short, he represented a threat to the so-called “compassionate conservatism” of Bush when it came to domestic policy and the neo-conservatives when it came to foreign policy.  The one thing Ron Paul did do was motivate younger voters.  There is the conundrum: Paul would likely win the backing of the one group most likely not to vote in 2016.

Rand had a great 2013.  His filibuster drew rave reviews, he won a CPAC straw poll and his speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was largely hailed.  However, he did the unthinkable by making moves to woo the establishment.  That likely explains the push back from old cronies like [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ]  who has never passed up an opportunity to downplay Paul.

The younger Paul starts from the position that GOP liabilities on the larger scale are not demographic, but ideological.  Perhaps this explains his assertion that he can garner 30% of the black vote.  In many past articles, I have argued and demonstrated that a Republican presidential candidate does not have to win the votes of any demographic group outright to prevail in a general election.  They only have to make inroads into the past Democratic advantages, and then only in particular states.  Paul seems to understand this which explains his outreach to younger voters, blacks and Hispanics.  We have heard these claims before- Herman Cain in 2012.  What makes this different is that Paul is a more realistic possibility.  Thus, Paul may be seen as a more “transformational” character within the GOP than any of his possible opponents.

The inheritance of his father’s organization gives Paul an advantage few other candidates currently have.  His supporters are estimated to be about 1 million organized and spread throughout all 50 states.  It should remembered that some polls put Paul in the top three of all candidates mentioned in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.  There is great enthusiasm within that network also.  In 2012, Ron Paul got 21% of the vote in Iowa and finished third while getting 23% in New Hampshire and finished second.  A slight improvement on those numbers by Rand could potentially lead to wins or forcing other players out.  That is what he is counting on.

It explains why he is going on a western state fundraising tour while reintroducing himself to the fine folks in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.  There is tremendous upside to a Paul candidacy.  There is the perception that he will not excel and that he is undervalued within the party and Paul doesn’t seem to mind.  What opponents need to worry about is whether that upside status translates into actual potential.

No one disputes that he is a principled candidate like his father.  Unlike his father, he seems to have a better grasp on how to play the game.  It is evident in interviews and speeches where responses are measured and sometimes nuanced to give himself wiggle room whereas his father was uncompromisingly rigid.  That is what got the elder Paul into trouble electorally and why he could never break through.  Rand is also a much better debater than his father and unlike Ron Paul, does not appear to have any skeletons in his closet that could potentially damage or torpedo a run for President.

So how does he deal with the legacy of his father?  Thus far, he has been dismissive of inquiries as to why the two differ.  He’s said he has talked enough about it.  It is a shrewd strategy of benign ignorance of his father’s views.  There will be the inevitable comparisons from within and outside the party.  How he handles these attacks will determine his political future.  Ron Paul was never taken seriously on the grand, national scale.  Such is not true with respect to Rand and that alone indicates he is deftly handling that tightrope act.  The one thing that can derail his candidacy is Ron Paul himself.  Although retired from politics, he still uses social media to advance his unique, conspiratorial opinion of world events.

One fact that sticks out is that the Republican Party rarely nominates a first time candidate.  The last time it happened was when George W. Bush won the nomination.  One of Paul’s major obstacles to winning the nomination- Jeb Bush- also has to deal with a familial legacy.  But the most ironic fact is: the last time the GOP nominated a first time candidate, they won the Presidency.  Could 2016 be next?