THE BLOG
11/26/2013 03:13 pm ET | Updated Jan 26, 2014

Could 2016 Be Rand Paul's Moment?

This is perhaps the most hospitable political climate for a presidential run by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). There is a resurgence of the Libertarian bloodline within the Republican Party. The Libertarian ideological trilogy of non-intervention abroad, free markets at home, and support for civil liberties was once a dominant force in the Republican Party. The last Libertarian with a legitimate shot at the GOP nomination was U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-OH) in 1952.

At that time, Libertarianism was one of two prevailing ideologies within the Republican Party. The other ideology was the centrist faction of the party which advocated an interventionist foreign policy, fiscal austerity, and better management of the Social Safety Net. Taft was the preponderant frontrunner for the GOP nomination during the earlier stages of the campaign, but lost to the moderate former General, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Since then, the Libertarian ideology has been in decline, becoming a fringe ideology within the Republican Party. This was true as recently as 2008, when Rand Paul's father, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), was booed during a debate at the Reagan Library when he suggested that the 9/11 hijackings were blowback from the deleterious effects of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, there was even an active movement among some in the Republican high command to bar Ron Paul from participating in future debates.

With the advent of the Libertarian-oriented Tea Party, and the success of Tea Party- style Congressional candidates at the ballot box in the 2010 and 2012 mid-term elections, this Libertarian ideology is now competing to be the mainstream ideology of the GOP. It is highly unlikely that any serious candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination will advocate a proliferation of the nation's War on Drugs as Bob Dole did in 1996, or advocate for federal standards for education as George W. Bush did or 2000, or favor a bellicose foreign policy as John McCain did in 2008.

Every so often in American politics a party nominates an insurgent, not because of his/her experience, but simply because their message strikes a resonate chord with the most active faction of the party at that time.

The most pertinent example of this phenomenon occurred in 1896. A proliferating faction of the Democratic Party became disenchanted with the conservative ideology which had personified the party since it's founding. The country was mired in an economic depression, and the lassie faire policies of the party's president, Grover Cleveland, were no longer popular with rank-and-file Democrats. The result was that the party underwent a radical ideological transmogrification and selected the 36-year-old firebrand populist William Jennings Bryan as its presidential nominee. Nicknamed "The Great Commoner," Bryan advocated a liberal platform. Unlike past Democratic party presidential nominees, Bryan opposed the gold standard, advocated an interventionist role for the federal government in the American economy, and supported an expansion of the money supply.

Then in 1940, with Libertarianism being the prevailing orthodoxy of the GOP, there was an insurrectionist movement by the moderate business wing of the GOP to nominate a more centrist candidate. They felt that the U.S. should be involved in aiding allies engaged in WWll and should not dismantle the country's social safety net. They rallied behind the candidacy of utility industrialist Wendell Willkie who had never run for office before, but who espoused a moderate ideology, had business experience, and had a charismatic presence. To the dismay of the Libertarian wing of the party, the moderate Willkie, a self-professed liberal and former Democrat, garnered the Republican presidential nomination.

Then in 1964, there was an insurrectionist uprising in the GOP against the Eastern establishment moderate bloodline that controlled the GOP apparatus. A grassroots movement formed around the candidacy of U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) who advocated: "A choice not an echo." After Goldwater finished first in the Primaries, the moderates panicked and drafted Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton to seek the nomination at the Republican National Convention. But he could not stop Goldwater's momentum, and to the dismay of the Republican establishment Goldwater pocketed the GOP presidential nomination.

Fast forward to 1976, in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate affair, trust in beltway politicians fell to low ebb. In 1972, the Democratic Party had nominated an unabashed liberal in U.S. Senator George McGovern, who lost 49 states in that election. Consequently, the Democratic Party was anxious to nominate a winner. This was the opportune time for the candidacy of Jimmy Carter. Carter was a former Governor of Georgia, a conservative state where McGovern pocketed just 24.65 percent of the vote in 1972. He was a born-again Christian who made honesty the flagship issue of his presidential campaign, promising, "I will not tell a lie." In addition, the fact that he had never served in national government allowed him to boast about being: "untainted by Washington."

Then in 1992, the Democratic Party, having lost the last two elections handily with nominees who were successfully branded by the Republican Party as out-of-touch Frostbelt liberals, nominated Bill Clinton. This was a superlative moment for the governor of the culturally conservative state of Arkansas, who had headed the moderate Democratic Leadership Council that advocated a more centrist message for the Democratic Party. Sick of losing, Liberals within the party were willing to hold their collective noses to support a man who was the tribune of the moderate wing of the party.

In 2008, Democrats were inflamed at members of their party's leadership who had supported the authorization of the use of force in Iraq. Despite this fact, it appeared early on that the race would be between U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former U.S. Senator John Edwards (D-NC). However, both had voted for the authorization. For the insurrectionist progressive movement within the Democratic part, this issue was a litmus test. U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was the only major candidate in the Democratic presidential sweepstakes who opposed the authorization to go to war in Iraq. He was an Illinois State Senator at the time and had spoken out against it. Despite a dearth of experience in national politics, Obama managed to secure the presidential nomination in large part because of his opposition to the authorization to go to war in Iraq.

For Rand Paul to garner the Republican presidential nomination, he will have to wage a populist insurgency campaign, pitting the Libertarian bloodline of the Republican Party against the old guard. While he would have a challenge winning the Presidency, there is no better time for a candidate who has become the tribune of Libertarian-Republicans to capitalize on the passion, activism, and ascendency of the Libertarian movement within the GOP.