Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), son of the recently-retired libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), was recently announced as a featured speaker for this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
CPAC is essentially a litmus test for the Republican Party; it provides a general sense of the party’s direction. Backed by tremendous Tea Party support, Rand Paul is eyeing a 2016 bid to take the reigns of the country, and he doesn’t care if you know it: "I am different than some in that I'm not going to deny that I'm interested," said Paul.
The GOP finds itself in an identity crisis. Among others attending CPAC are Sen. Marc Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Throw in Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, and you have all the heavy hitters chomping at the bit for the 2016 GOP bid.
With disciplined libertarian Ron Paul retiring, there is some expectation that Rand Paul will succeed his father in spearheading libertarian causes. After Romney’s mystery campaign many await what a reinvigorated GOP will entail. Does Rand Paul’s rise represent anything transformative in the GOP?
Rand Paul is a rare breed: He is a self-described libertarian, but envisions a world where the government controls matters regarding basic women’s rights, even in cases of rape and incest. The libertarian affection for choice, freedom, and minimalist government gains an interesting meaning for Paul: “I think the answer really is that we need to somehow find our way back to God.” Despite the continued moral decay noticed by some after the Newtown tragedy, government imposition of religious morality hardly defines any libertarian worth his salt.
Rand Paul might be characterized by tea party sentiment, “Get the government out of my life!” He is in line the dominant Republican narrative of cutting taxes, which appeals to everyone. Paul senses the government spending is out of control, which is correct. Coincidentally enough, Rand Paul’s home state of Kentucky receives up to $1.83 in federal benefits for every $1 it pays in taxes. Paul and the Tea Partiers are crying out against all that terrifying “government intervention” despite the fact that their livelihood depends on it. But sure, let’s keep lowering taxes while we “get serious” about the national debt.
Rand Paul, unlike his father Ron, has sold himself to the Tea Party. Paul opposes same-sex marriage and urges the federal banning of abortion. He stands to get government out of everyone’s life, unless it is a way of life he doesn’t particularly care for.
If Rand Paul runs in 2016 and sticks to the traditional Republican fighting words of fiscal responsibility and fiscal conservativism, he will get a lot of support. Corporations, middle aged adults, laymen, and working Americans will launch themselves at this idea. But social issues? Forget about it. One of the primary reasons the Republicans lost the 2012 election was because whenever Romney started talking about something besides the economy, he couldn’t form anything coherent for people to latch onto.
The GOP has a few different directions it can take in 2016. The GOP could go the “diversity” route and nominate Marco Rubio (after all, politics is mostly marketing). They can nominate someone like Chris Christie, who seems to be the only Republican even some liberals can support. Or, they can continue clenching the socially conservative façade and run the self-proclaimed “libertarian” who really only wants “government to get out!” when it comes to money.
The GOP is in crisis mode, or at the least it should be. The past two elections should tell party leaders something: whatever they’re doing is failing. The GOP can stick with the status-quo, one of their dearly held premises, or they can change. As long as the image of fiscal responsibility is tainted through religious and moral imposition unfounded by reason, expect more of the same.