The 50 year-old Kentucky senator and son of libertarian icon Ron Paul has turned out to be a lot more politically savvy than most pundits predicted, much to Karl Rove’s dismay. The recent string of events involving the NSA leaks and the IRS scandal has fueled the paranoia of an Orwellian state that Paul’s base has long held. His 12-hour filibuster on drones has positioned him to run as a champion of civil liberties, and highlighted the more measured approach to talking about foreign policy in relation to his father. While Ron Paul would suggest that using drones in targeting killings makes people hate us and creates new terrorists overseas, Rand instills a fear in suggesting that the government could use drones to target U.S. citizens without due process. He takes the same anti-drone stance as his father but personalizes the message.
He also has going for him that he’s ideologically in line with the Republican base in a cycle where the argument that moderation equals electability has been exhausted. Given where the Republican Party was in 2012, Mitt Romney was a weird fit to be their nominee. He was a relatively moderate, pragmatic governor trying to desperately re-brand his views to be in sync with a party that has made obstructionism their policy agenda in Congress and threatened to shut down the government and default our nation’s credit. He was a quarter-billionaire representing a party that had been hijacked by a grassroots movement fueled by economic insecurity with a vocal nativist segment. The base of the Republican Party did not like him. They never did. Romney was nominated on the promise that he would be the most viable and electable candidate, but the base of the party was dragged kicking and screaming on the road to his nomination, where just about every anti-establishment candidate had their moment polling in first place.
A big reason Romney won the nomination is he was the only establishment candidate in a field crowded with anti-establishment candidates who divided up the anti-Romney vote. Now, fast forward to 2016. Rand Paul is the top tier anti-establishment candidate. He inherits a base of libertarian support that his father enjoyed, and on top of that he attracts more of the anti-establishment Tea Party voters from 2012. He may even expand the primary electorate by bringing new voters in as Obama did in 2008. This would give him a pretty solid floor that would cement his status as a top-tier candidate.
The difference between 2012 and 2016 is this time the establishment vote might be divided up in a similar way to how the anti-establishment vote was divided in 2012. If Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan all run, the establishment support would be greatly divided. The chances of all of them running are very slim, however. It’s hard to imagine Jeb Bush running if Rubio’s in, and vice-versa, and Paul Ryan looks a lot more likely to stay in the House. But it only takes two establishment candidates running to divide up their vote.
He’s still a long shot to the nomination, and a much longer shot to the presidency. But his candidacy is possible because of the notion that charisma is a more electable quality than moderation and substantive accomplishment. Though if saying no to everything and talking for 12 hours nonstop qualifies one to be president, I have a couple ex-girlfriends who would make great candidates.