Rand Paul: Political Shape Shifter

Rand Paul: Political Shape Shifter April 9, 2015

BuzzFeed has an interesting article about Rand Paul’s anticlimactic announcement that he’s running for president. Based on interviews with people inside and close to the campaign, it reveals that there is an ongoing debate over who exactly Paul should try to be in order to win. And so far, he’s chosen to be whatever a given audience wants him to be.

For the past two years, the advisers and allies around Rand Paul have debated — quietly and heatedly — how to position the libertarian-leaning senator in the 2016 primaries. Which of the many distinct and disparate tribes of the Republican Party should he court most aggressively? How will he combine those pitches into one cohesive message? How will Rand win? But now, as his candidacy is finally here, interviews with nearly a dozen insiders suggest that the Paul camp has yet to reach a consensus on which constituencies will comprise the “Rand Paul coalition.”…

On one side, there are those in Rand world who argue his best bet is to unite his core base of libertarian activists with elements of the GOP establishment and traditional donor class. In the other camp are advisers who say conservative evangelicals — many of whom share the liberty movement’s growing sense that Republican elites and mainstream moderates hold them in contempt — are a more natural fit.

Paul has spent time reaching out to both camps in recent years — alternating emphases with the ebb and flow of the ongoing debate within his inner circle — but many have told BuzzFeed News over the past year that they expected the candidate to eventually pick one approach or the other. Instead, several sources said, it appears he and his chief strategist, Doug Stafford, have decided to pursue both strategies at the same time.

“I think he’s going to take it state by state,” said Jesse Benton, the longtime Paul adviser who served as his father’s campaign manager in 2012 and is now running the presidential candidate’s super PAC. “In Iowa, you’ve got to reach out to evangelicals, and in New Hampshire, it’s more the Romney voters.”…

But granted anonymity to speak candidly on internal strategy, some in Paul’s orbit believe it’s unrealistic to count on the idea that significant numbers of Democratic people of color — religious or otherwise — will flock to the candidate’s economic message, especially in the primaries. Even winning conservative white evangelicals will be an uphill battle that may prove too costly in terms of time and resources, some believe.

“I worry about time getting squandered,” said one Republican strategist and former Paul adviser, who has remained close to the senator. He said that it will be difficult for Paul to compete for conservative Christian voters in a field that may well be packed with devout evangelical contenders, including Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, and Rick Perry. “I just think we’re never going to be the evangelical candidate,” the strategist said.

This is why Paul ultimately has very little chance of winning the nomination. Romney was able to get away with being the rubber band man in 2012, but only because he had an overwhelming money and organization advantage that Paul simply does not, and never will, have. But I’m still glad he’s in the race because I think it could open up some debate on issues on which the Republican party is completely united, like foreign military intervention and government surveillance.

On those issues, Paul is libertarian in the right sense of the word and he’s got such a track record of speaking out against them that he can’t possibly run to a position that would be safer in the primaries. The other candidates will attack him on it and I hope we will get to hear, for the first time, a Republican presidential candidate take and defend the anti-war and pro-privacy position on a national level. I think that’s valuable, even if the candidacy is ultimately a failure. And it will be.

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