This article in the New Republic – an admittedly liberal publication – gives Rand Paul and his presidential aspirations a fair shake, and is worth reading either for its prescience, or so that years from now you can look back on 2013 and go, ‘How crazy was that?’ when discussing the dark and hopefully final throes of the Tea Party. Could be either, or, really, both.
When Paul launched his political career three years ago, he was viewed in much the same way as his father, or, as Senator John McCain once called him, a “wacko bird.” He was identified with the same marginal issues (drug legalization, neo-isolationism) and the same marginal constituencies (anarchists, goldbugs). But this year, Paul has emerged as a serious candidate. He has started actively campaigning for the nomination earlier than any of the other Republicans mulling a run. Already, he has racked up multiple meet-and-greets, dinners, and coffee gatherings in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. While his father may have been an also-ran, national polls show Rand Paul as one of the top contenders for the GOP nomination. In private, Paul has been meeting with key GOP power brokers, including the Koch brothers, and he has courted techies at Silicon Valley companies like Google, Facebook, and eBay. “We’re doing something that Ron never did; we’re reaching out to major donors,” says a Paul adviser. “Not everyone is giving us money, but there’s definitely some flirtation going on.” According to this adviser, in the last six months, RAND PAC, Paul’s national political operation, has raised more than a million dollars. “He’s very politically talented,” says a former senior official at the Republican National Committee. “He is absolutely a contender.”
In his efforts to court new audiences, or to bring what he calls “tough love” to friendly ones, Rand Paul is aiming for a bigger, broader base than Ron Paul—or, for that matter, Mitt Romney—ever captured. But though he has staked out more moderate or traditionally Republican positions than his father, at his core, Rand retains the same pre–New Deal vision of hyper-minimalist government and isolationist foreign policy. In other words, Paul has managed to take the essence of his father’s radical ideology—more radical than that of any modern presidential candidate—and turn it into a plausible campaign for the Republican nomination.
I have increasingly mixed feelings about Rand Paul as a Senator, or Rand Paul as a legislator, or Rand Paul as a Person of (Any) Influence. He’s very closely aligned with issues I personally support (the aforementioned drug legalization, his series of Verb the Noun bills “intended to make senators more diligent: the Read the Bills Act, the Write the Laws Act, and the One Subject at a Time Act”) and issues that I strongly oppose (the dismantling of the New Deal, the defunding of the federal government, institutional racism), and likewise with certain constituencies (Libertarians and Tea Partiers, respectively). So the idea of Rand Paul as President is a bit hard to muster.
Rand Paul as a candidate, however, is not hard to imagine – we are, after all, currently witnessing it – but it is hard to imagine him winning.
The biggest argument against Obama in 2008 – and one that has not faded too far from memory, as we are bearing witness to it as well – was his lack of experience, an argument made, I might add, by many people who may consider themselves Rand Paul constituents. Two terms in the Illinois State Senate, one term in the U.S. Senate, then president. Rand Paul, however, does not even have the pre-U.S. Senate experience Obama had. Before the current term – his first term – as Senator, Rand Paul was an ophthalmologist, a position that may or may not lend itself to governmental leadership (though I admit it does lend credibility to his anti-Obamacare stance). But it is not political experience, and it is a definite soft spot with a target painted on it for whoever his opponents will be, both in the primary and in the general. Hillary, particularly, if 2016 lines up that way, would tip the experience scales pretty drastically. So would Biden, though they almost certainly would not be pulling from the same pool of voters. The problem for Republicans, though, is that Paul could very possibly win the primary, based on current circumstances. His outsider, anti-government image could sufficiently rile up the base and build a new super-conservative, neo-Tea Party movement on which he rides to primary victory, essentially being to conservative Republicans what Obama was to Democrats in 2008. But nationally he is seen as too much of a symbol of the far-far-right, of the sort that both scares and infuriates liberals, while the whole of the country, as we’ve heard about with the rise of minority groups and young people, is swinging left. No time for a Rand Paul presidency. The Republicans would be best served, when the time comes, with nominating someone with much more broad popular support, who can win nationally, rather than trying to tern anti-Obama super-con fervor into its own party. If Republicans “fall in line,” as the saying goes, Paul is not the establishment candidate here to form up the ranks. It’s the wrong time.