Over the weekend, Martin Longman (AKA: the handcuffed frog blogger) made an interesting observation, Why Presidential Horserace Pieces are Boring. I think what he really meant is that horse race pieces are stupid. And his reasoning is interesting: regardless of who the Republicans nominate, they will lose. I don’t agree with that logic. I’m a fundamentals kind of guy, and I think that as bad a candidate as Newt Gingrich could be elected president in 2016 if the economy crumbles in the months leading up to the election.
But I’m in agreement with Longman: I’m not very interested in presidential horse race articles. And that’s why I’m going to write one. Because I think I know who the Republicans are going to nominate for president in 2016: Rand Paul. But don’t worry, I haven’t lost all sense. I certainly don’t think that he will get the nomination because the Republicans have turned libertarian. Instead, he will get the nomination because he claims to be a libertarian without actually acting like it.
A big part of this is the fascination that Republicans have for the libertarian brand. And everyone knows that Rand Paul is a libertarian—whatever that might mean. When I was a libertarian, I hated what I saw as pretenders like Rand Paul. As it was, I didn’t vote for his father when he ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, and his father is a hell of a lot closer to an actual libertarian than Rand is. His reputation is based on his isolationist foreign policy ideas, lukewarm support of LGBT rights, and his kinda sorta support of cannabis legalization.
The problem for Rand Paul is that the things that make him the new poster boy of libertarianism are things that the base of the Republican Party hates. But this is a minor problem for Paul. As each day goes by, we find him pushing himself further and further away from any libertarian positions into a nice comfortable conservative place. So by this time next year, he will have massaged every position so that it still sounds libertarian, while still being full of conservative red meat for the base.
For the Republican voter, Rand Paul will be the ultimate candidate. He will have the official George Washington seal of approval without having to take on any of the actual ideas of the first president or any of the other founders of the nation. This is what the Tea Party is all about and they will vote for Rand Paul as long as he doesn’t keep saying things that upset their sense of American exceptionalism. It will be perfect: conservative elitism in the clothes of libertarian idealism.
A lot of people seem to think that Paul will have problems with things he’s said in the past. But as we’ve seen over and over, Paul has no problem just ignoring the past or claiming that he misspoke in the past. All politicians try to do that, of course. But the Republican base seems awfully forgiving about this. Just look at the transformation that Mitt Romney went through. The problem with Rand Paul’s father was always that he was too wedded to his ideology. The son learned not to do that from his father’s failure to inspire the Republican Party. So Rand Paul very clearly doesn’t believe in anything other than that he ought to be president. And I think that will see him through to the nomination.
Let us hope to God that he doesn’t win the general election.