Something weird has happened recently: I’ve come to agree with Rand Paul a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I was never a big fan of his father, though that may have had more to do with style than substance. It was just hard to take Ron Paul seriously at times, even when I agreed with him. Marco Rubio was always my guy. But recent events have altered that. And while I could still see myself going all in for Rubio, Rand Paul is starting to make sense on many levels.
In 2010, conservatives and the Republican Party notched huge political victories. In primary season, conservative challengers toppled establishment picks in places like Florida ( Marco Rubio), Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey), Alaska (Joe Miller), Nevada (Sharon Angle), and Kentucky ( Rand Paul). Three of those went on to win in the general election as the GOP netted 6 seats overall. But perhaps flying most under the radar at the time was Rand Paul, the libertarian-conservative son of former Texas congressman Ron Paul. who was overshadowed by higher-profile allies. Paul’s up-start primary victory is likely attributed to both his lineage and his appeal as an outsider. Paul’s primary opponent was a hand-picked ally of US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Though his name helped him become a US Senator, Rand Paul would have to prove himself in the years that would follow. Will he have proven himself enough by 2016 to become a legitimate contender?
Seizing an Opening
In the first two years of his political career, Paul was not viewed as a major player in the political world. Fellow rising stars Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida received most of the attention and press and played a larger role in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Christie was the early favorite of the more entrenched and moderate politicians and voters, while Rubio was well-liked by everyone, but a clear favorite of the Tea Party. And then something happened: Rand Paul filibustered a nominee to bring attention to the federal government’s droning program. Paul’s numbers shot up immediately, and he was now gaining an audience. His libertarian-leanings made him a natural spokesperson to promote abolishing the IRS during the tea party targeting scandal and as a privacy advocate during the NSA surveillance scandal. As the Obama administration agreed to intervene in worn-torn Syria – in which that intervention could possibly once again lead to arming terrorist-supporting forces – Paul’s opposition was sound. In 2013, nearly every breaking story was starting to play perfectly into Paul’s political realm as Rubio’s ill-advised enforcement-free immigration push led to a quick erosion of conservative support.
A Libertarian-Conservative Platform
A Rand Paul candidacy could possibly shake up the field like no other candidate outside of, say, Sarah Palin. Paul would likely be the most fierce advocate for federalism and limited government. His state’s right approach on issues ranging from gay marriage to marijuana legalization is one in which the grassroots of the Republican Party is rushing to following years of being let down by big government Republicanism. Paul would be less prone to agreeing to big government programs out of fear of being attacked by the media. He would also likely have the least interventionist foreign policy of all the candidates. Foreign policy is an area where the Republican party desperately needs to have an honest talk about the United States’ proper role. After 8 years of what is turning into one foreign policy disaster after the next, 2016 may be the perfect time to have that debate. Too often, Republicans seem too afraid to just say not to supporting interventionist policies. The debate is needed.
While Paul leans very libertarian overall, he is not a socially-liberal libertarian. He is very pro-life and has stood up for life. If anyone can make the argument that you don’t have to hold Christian beliefs to realize that a life is a life, Paul might be that guy. On Economic policy, he is good on taxes, subsidies, and opposing crony capitalism. He is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. He joined fellow tea party star Ted Cruz in opposing the Rubio immigration plan. Does Paul have flaws? Of course. But he is firmly entrenched on the liberty and freedom side of the GOP, perhaps more-so than any other potential candidate.
Which brings us to the most important question: is Rand Paul electable? While Paul became a viable US Senate candidate mostly because of who is father was, he is in many ways very different than his father. His father was never taken seriously on a big scale. Whether it was his larger-than-reality personality or some of the positions he took (and the way he explained them), Ron Paul was just never a mainstream kind of candidate. Rand Paul is different on many levels. Paul is more measured in his approach. He is naturally gifted in debating points that most conservatives wouldn’t touch. He knows how to pick his battles and knows how to not step into a trap. As a politician, Rand Paul is proving to be vastly superior to his father.
His appeal can also be broad. He is now a grassroots conservative favorite, if not the outright favorite. While he may have some trouble convincing the more interventionist crowd on foreign policy, the reality is the American public is simply war tired. We are tired of funding nations run by people who hate us. We are tired of arming “rebels” who wind up being more extreme than the people we wanted overthrown, and then get attacked with our own weapons. Obama ran on “change” in foreign policy and has been no less interventionist or check-write happy than any of his predecessors. At the rate the Obama administration is going, his foreign policy could be a huge plus. And that’s not even considering that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is mostly responsible for crafting much of that foreign policy agenda.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won with people over 30, but overwhelmingly lost the 29-and-under crowd. While Ron Paul did not have broad support, he did have a lot of support with younger people. Rand Paul has positioned himself against both the Obama Administration and entrenched Republicans like John McCain on the government’s US citizen data-mining programs. Paul even threatened a class-action lawsuit with the American people over that surveillance. His libertarian and hands off view of government can actually appeal to the age brackets that overwhelmingly supported Obama, and who have gradually become disenchanted with the direction he has taken. Rand Paul’s electability is enhanced because he might have the best chance of persuading the age bracket the GOP does worst with.