It is obvious that Kentucky senator Rand Paul has, like so many others in the Republican party, presidential ambitions that are likely to manifest itself in a run in 2016. The reason is that if you miss that chance, the next best opportunity will be 2024, and that might seem like too long a wait for Republicans who see the demographic shifts working against them.
Florida senator Marco Rubio sees the rapid growth in minority groups, especially among Hispanics, as his path to the nomination and wants to be seen as the Hispanic-friendly face of the party. But I think that more significant is the rapid shift in views of young people on the major divisive GRAGGS social issues (guns, race, abortion, gays, god, sex). Those issues were successfully exploited in the past but can no longer deliver the goods and the party is struggling to figure out how to change its stances without appearing to be too opportunistic. And it is here that Rand Paul has the edge.
Like most observers, I thought of Rand Paul as a long shot. He was elected to the senate only in 2010. Even though he is not as much a party outsider as his father Ron Paul, who was treated by the party like a crazy uncle because of his anti-war views and his economic policies that called for the elimination of the Federal Reserve and the return to the gold standard, Rand Paul is still seen as having somewhat kooky views by the party establishment.
But Rand Paul could inherit the support of the many young people in the party who have a libertarian bent who flocked to the elder Paul’s campaign, confounding the party and media establishment who could not see what was appealing about this 77-year old man, and were concerned that his message did not fit into the narrow bipartisan framework that governs politics in the US.
I had not quite appreciated how significant Paul’s support among the young was until I read an article titled The Awakening by Michael Ames in the April 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine (behind a paywall). He attended the three-day counter-convention organized in Tampa last year by the Ron Paul camp after Paul was denied a speaking slot at the Republican convention because he refused to endorse Mitt Romney. According to Ames, about 10,000 people, mostly young and energetic, attended a We Are The Future rally. The fact that I was quite unaware of this big three-day counter-rally by a very large number of young people during the Republican convention suggests the extent to which the Ron Paul phenomenon was ignored by the media.
These young people are working to try and take control of the party at the state and local level and, as part of something called the Liberty Movement, have made significant progress in doing so in places like Iowa, Maine, Michigan, and Nevada.
Ames says the people at the rally had some of elements of a cult with “patriotic passion and righteous anger heightened by survivalist paranoia”. What makes the group unusual is its political stances that straddle conventional boundaries
The Paulites may oppose government power, but they loathe what currently passes for conservatism even more.
Their loudest jeers were directed not at President Obama and Nancy Pelosi but at Rick Santorum, who over time emerged as the rally’s favored whipping boy. Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Rudy Giuliani were all roundly booed.
So where does Rand Paul fit into this?
With his Tea Party and Bible Belt bona fides, [senior Ron Paul campaign advisor Doug] Wead said, Rand Paul may be the only figure who can unite young libertarians with the still powerful evangelical base. “There is an almost universal sentiment that Rand is going to run [in 2016] and that he has a real chance.”
Listen closely to Rand Paul and you can already hear him stitching the coalition together.
If the Rand Paul candidacy can tap into this energy while retaining enough establishment party support, he may be the dark horse in 2016, whose strength we may find hard to gauge until the first primaries and caucuses.