Rand Paul’s Presidential announcement yesterday that he will seek the GOP nomination is notable not just for the announcement but also for the fact the libertarian leaning Senator, in a party full of hawks, thinks he can win the GOP nomination.
Paul paints an interesting picture. The quixotic Senator, first elected in the 2010 Tea Party emergence, defeated an establishment favorite in Trey Grayson. Utilizing his father’s libertarian machine, Rand crushed his opponent in the low turnout primary. His Democratic opponent had no shot in the general election.
In the Senate Paul has emerged as a leading proponent of some libertarians most cherished causes. He wants to audit the Fed which ironically puts him on the side of ultra-liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren. He also wants to significantly curtail the power of the NSA on the domestic surveillance front and limit our foreign entanglements. If anything he made this clear in his announcement speech. He also has opposed raising the debt ceiling and has not voted for a budget in his time in the Senate.
Paul has also been one of the few Republicans willing to actually physically show up in strongly Democratic locations, specifically historic black colleges. He has also taken up drug and sentencing reform, an issue he has worked with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on and one that predominately impacts the minority community.
Despite these instances of conviction Paul has also abandoned some of the more far-fetched views of his father. He has openly disavowed the isolationist views of his father and he endorsed Senator Mitch McConnell in his 2014 reelection effort. Banning foreign aid is gone from his rhetoric and he now acknowledges the limitations of the current political system; something his father never did.
However, highlighting the peril involved in the balancing act Paul is walking, several former Ron Paul staffers in Iowa defected to Ted Cruz. And while Paul’s limited government message will resonate with most of his father’s supporters he will also need to connect to business friendly and defense hawk Republicans who are weary of him. Moreover, he will need to connect to somewhat libertarian primary voters who make up anywhere between 13%-25% of the GOP. Further complicating Paul’s campaign is the fact that Paul’s “liberty campaign” is likely to appeal to a split electorates; primarily evangelicals as well as libertarians.
That said, Paul has a strong shot to win the GOP nomination. His pro-traditional marriage credentials are well established and copy Walker’s (support traditional marriage personally but will abide by court rulings) and he is solidly pro-life. In Iowa both these positions will play well and if he makes it to the general election he can play down the social rhetoric.
From some perspectives Paul’s best chance might be an early win in Iowa. But while a social conservative Paul downplays such issues. The GOP electorate in New Hampshire is far more socially moderate than Iowa and tends to focus more on foreign policy and fiscal issues as opposed to family values. As for South Carolina Paul has not attempted to make inroads into the state.
If Paul will struggle because of his father’s legacy he will also benefit from it. While the views of Rand’s father will be a shadow he must get out from under of the campaign apparatus his father has established in Iowa and New Hampshire will also benefit the Senator. Even the desertion of former Ron Paul staffers cannot change this fact.
Paul’s biggest hurdle will likely be the hurdle of other “liberty candidates,” Cruz in particular, and that is raising enough money to stay competitive with the Bush and Walker. Paul can tap his dad’s grassroots donor base for cash but will it be enough to compete with the Bush and Walker financial juggernauts?
Only time will tell. But nobody should assume Paul does not have a good shot at winning the GOP nomination. His message resonates with both libertarians and conservatives (maybe even a few left of center folks) and if he can get past the big three (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) the sky is the limit.