The 2016 presidential race has begun, heaven save us all.
Already, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul have announced their candidacies. Interested readers might want to note that all three GOP candidates are first-term US Senators, which not too long ago was considered by the Republican party to be a not good enough qualification to run for President. Alas, as we all know, times change.
In any event, it should make for an entertaining race – most likely devoid of any meaningful or binding debate on the issues that will shape the next administration. And it is still, obviously, too early to handicap the race. In fact, it’s too early to tell whether Hillary will even face any opposition for the Democratic party’s nomination.
It is not, however, too early to write Rand Paul’s political obituary – at least as far as his presidential aspirations are concerned.
Rand Paul’s is perhaps the most intriguing of this year’s candidate stable, and he inherits from his father and perpetual presidential candidate, Ron Paul, a potent activist base. He also champions ideas that are popular with people on both ends of the political spectrum and that resonate with young, disaffected voters. So it might seem premature to declare the end of his presidential candidacy, but The Fog of Policy thinks that it’s always important to call a spade a spade: Rand Paul will never be President.
If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my hat: he’s about as likely a Presidential candidate as Donald Trump, Dennis Kucinich, or Herman Cain.
And don’t just take my word for it – none other than Rand Paul is furiously trying to hedge his bet by trying to get Kentucky to change the election rules to allow him to run for both the Senate and the White House at the same time. You know, just in case…
The canny Marco Rubio, on the other hand, began his White House bid by announcing that he would not be seeking reelection to the Senate. He’s in it to win it.
But Rand Paul faces three major road blocks on the way to the White House. First, he can’t win the GOP nomination. To put it bluntly, he lacks the support of hawks, evangelicals, or the business community. After that, there’s hardly anyone left in the party to vote for him.
His hope seems to be that he can moderate enough on some issues – like defense – while repeating his father’s often electrifying debate performances. The problem is that 90 percent of the time during debates Ron Paul sounded like what he was: an unhinged candidate from the fringe who has read too much Ludwig Von Mises and didn’t understand floating currency exchanges. But he had one powerful trait: he was unshakably consistent. That made the 10 percent of the time when he was making sense pretty powerful stuff. He was able to do that because he wasn’t a candidate, he was a champion.
But Rand has deluded himself into thinking that he can win, so he has been willing to be inconsistent in order to appeal to more voters. But there’s a reason politicians don’t pander a little: once you’ve shown you’re willing to move an issue for political expediency, it makes any remaining intransigence stand out.
Rand Paul will either have to tow the party line on a lot of issues and risk deluding his brand, or be prepared for a level of scrutiny that his father never faced.
And if he does learn the fine art of political inconsistency, it’s doubtful that his father’s political machinery would show up for him. Ron Paul’s supporters were motivated by a clearcut, consistent view of the world where the solution to every political and social problem was to give men more freedom, and where the economy could be fixed if we just went back to the gold standard. If Rand Paul’s not selling that, then I’m not sure they’re buying.
The second hurdle, and perhaps I should be cautious after the Sarah Palin debacle of 2008, is that Rand Paul has zero appeal as a Vice Presidential candidate. There is no part of a Presidential portfolio that he would help strengthen, no swing vote that he would help secure, and no way he could credibly sing the praises of someone like Jeb Bush.
Lastly, if he somehow did end up at the top of a Presidential ticket, then the Democratic playbook writes itself: paint him as a dangerous lunatic, rack up the swing vote, and wait for the blow out to materialize after half of the GOP loses enthusiasm for their candidate. It would be Barry Goldwater all over again.
A few weeks ago, my reaction to all of this might have been some frustration, since Rand Paul seemed like the likeliest candidate to inject new ideas into the election. After the announcement of his candidacy, however, I’m not so sure. Less than bold libertarian ideas, or the sort of brave discussion of criminal justice reform that Rand Paul has engaged in before, he gave the crowd a hodge podge of populist sound bites. He called for congressional term limits (a bad idea), a balanced budged amendment (a worse idea), and a tax holiday for corporate money held overseas (a stupid idea). He also seemed to call for a billion dollar stimulus package for either Detroit or Appalachia, though I suspect that was just bad speech writing.
(You can read a fact-check of the speech here. He seemed to play fast and loose with some issues.)
Lastly, he wanted to be clear on what the message of his campaign is: “We have come to take our country back.” Great, Rand. That’s lovely. Tell me again about how Barack Obama is a divider, not a uniter.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised. That was always going to be the problem with Rand Paul: equal parts oversimplification and contradiction. In his announcement, Paul categorically declared the government “inept”. Not exactly a fresh idea, and not exactly nuanced. The question of whether or not government is inept is always un-enlightening, the better questions are: (i) how is it inept? and (ii) how can it be made better? But no matter, Rand Paul’s message was clear: government is the problem and we need less of it.
Yet, here he is on Meet the Press, discussing his foreign policy views:
The Middle East is a very confusing place…If I can think of one thing that is true in that mess, that I think that is incontrovertible and really hard for anybody to object to is that every time we have toppled a strongman we have gotten chaos and we’ve gotten the rise of radical Islam. That includes wars that were promoted by Republicans as well as wars promoted by Democrats. I think Hillary’s war in Libya is an example, but I also think the toppling of Hussain is another example of when a strongman went, chaos ensued.
Now, you can say what you will about the accuracy of Paul’s assessment, but what you can’t do is call it libertarian. When you espouse freedom domestically, and tyranny overseas, you might be called many things, but ‘freedom loving’ – one of Paul’s favorite phrases – isn’t one of them.
‘President’ is something else you won’t be calling Rand Paul.
Follow Pedro on Twitter @IamPedroA.
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