Anti-war voters are widely credited with carrying Obama to victory in 2008. They could also do the same for Paul’s candidacy. If so, they might not only carry him through the GOP Primary but also to the White House. Many progressives have all but embraced Hillary’s candidacy, largely because it is seen as inevitable, but these progressives do not speak for the Millennial voters that were galvanized by Obama’s message of closing Guantanamo, ending the War in Iraq and focusing on Afghanistan in 2008. Rand Paul has made numerous waves in GOP circles due to his foreign policy views. He has been called a “wacko-bird” by Senator John McCain. His criticism of drone strikes has attracted the ire of Senate GOP leadership. Most recently, Rick Perry took a shot at Senator Rand Paul’s views, characterizing them as isolationist and out of touch with a realist view of the world. Paul shot back and in a piece more reminiscent of Obama in 2008 said that interventionists should think twice before they send men and women into harm’s way.
All this seems to be burnishing Paul’s street-cred as a welcome break from the traditional GOP worldview. However, Rand Paul is not his father. He is not nearly as anti-war as his father. Ron Paul, a former Congressman from TX, was the Dennis Kucinich of the GOP. Kucinich, the darling of the anti-war left, led the charge against the Iraq War in the House. Rand Paul is leading no charge but he is not nearly as gung-ho as some in his party to fight first. This begs the question whether the anti-war Left might turn to a Paul candidacy over Hillary. Hillary voted for the Resolution for War in Iraq and every supplemental funding the war until she left the Senate in 2008. Her 2008 candidacy failed to attract the support of many on the anti-war Left (ie the young and professionals). There are many similarities between a Rand Paul 2016 candidacy and a 2008 Obama candidacy that should concern Hillary. Obama, like Paul, was a fresh face in an aging party. He was seen as anti-establishment just as Paul is. He could claim to be a new generation of politician just as Rand could. Lastly, Obama heavily battered Hillary on foreign policy amid an electorate that was tired of conflict. In 2008 and even 2012 this did not apply to the GOP. But come 2016 the GOP electorate is likely to be tired of war (more so than now) making Rand’s appeal broad in the GOP. Extend this further to the fact the Democratic base is no more hungry for conflict and they rejected Hillary once for embracing it, Paul might have a chance to attract some of their votes. Certainly, many on the anti-war Left base their votes on more than foreign policy. Many of these voters are pro-choice, socially liberal and proponents of social justice. Short of gay marriage, Paul is far from socially liberal and his libertarian economic views fly in the face of social justice ideals. Yet, an opening is available for Paul to court some of these voters on foreign policy, especially when faced against a Hillary Clinton. Indeed, Clinton has not backed down from her strong national security views. Such an effort would not be new for Paul. He is already on record stating the GOP needs to expand the party and he has undertaken a number of steps to do so. He has spoken at several black universities, has sponsored legislation to promote civil liberties and most recently endorsed bipartisan legislation to reform drug sentencing. Paul has been mum on the legalization of marijuana but it would not be a stretch to say many believe he supports it. Winning votes from unusual places could be Paul’s MO. It still remains highly unlikely Paul could win over the anti-war Left despite what I have stated above. But he only needs some of their votes, not all. Combined with traditional GOP support, Paul could win over Democratic bastions in the Midwest and Northeast. It might just be enough to give the White House back to the GOP. Note: A follow-up article will discuss the impact a Paul candidacy could have on the GOP’s foreign policy.