THE BLOG
08/18/2014 05:57 pm ET | Updated Oct 18, 2014

Rand Paul's Potential 'Brian Schweitzer Problem'

In referring to the reasons for the September 11 hijackings, Republican U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) stated in a 2007 South Carolina Republican presidential debate "They attack us because we've been over there."

He was referring to the nation's interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. Paul later pointed out that by meddling in the Middle East, the nation had effectuated enmity in the region. Osama bin laden referred to such grievances as U.S. troops on Saudi soil, the U.S. supporting sanctions leveled against Iraq -- which likely contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, U.S. aid to Israel, and support for secular nationalist autocratic regimes. While establishment Republicans roundly booed Paul, he became a folk hero to the party's Libertarian bloodline, as well as to Independents, Democrats and the previously politically dispossessed.

While most Democrats had come to oppose U.S. war in Iraq, they opposed it on the grounds that it was simply the wrong war. They did not question the foundations of U.S. foreign policy. For example, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the Democratic party's 2004 Presidential nominee, simply proclaimed "It was the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time." The party's eventual 2008 nominee Barack Obama called Iraq "the Wrong War" while calling the War in Afghanistan: "The Right War." In fact, he called for sending three more brigades to Afghanistan.

In addition, Paul supported the federal government abdicating its role in interdicting illegal drugs, and letting the states decide their own drug policy. Paul was sympathetic to legalizing drugs, and suggested that the citizens do not need government to regulate them. He said at a Republican presidential debate: "How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would."

Paul's call for a complete retrenchment of commitments abroad, coupled with his calls to end the Drug War, and his opposition to NSA spying, along with his support for home schooling and opposition to gun control provided a motley coalition of supporters in his second run for President in 2012. Paul was perhaps the only candidate in American History who could attract supporters from Oz Fest attendees, ACLU members and Wickens on the left, as well as NRA members, fundamentalist Christians, and military personnel on the right.

His son, Rand Paul, was elected to an open U.S. Senate in Kentucky in 2010, largely through the help of the same coalition that so enthusiastically supported his father.

However, in trying to propitiate enough establishment Republicans to secure the GOP Presidential nomination in 2016, Rand Paul is displaying some independence from his father. Unlike the non-interventionist policies of Ron Paul, whose ideological antecedents included Presidents Grover Cleveland and Warren G. Harding, Rand Paul is more of a realist, skeptical toward making commitments overseas, but still recognizing a vital role for the U.S. in the international arena. His "realist" ideological antecedents are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald R. Ford.

Paul also voted to tighten economic sanctions on Iran. Furthermore, he does not favor liquidating all U.S. military bases outside of the U.S. and he says he would support "some drones." After Russia invaded Crimea, Paul called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be punished, and averred: "It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia's aggression."

While Paul is buttressing his bone fides with the Republican establishment for his prospective 2016 Presidential run, he may have competition from many supporters of his father including the charismatic former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Many states, including New Hampshire, which hosts the omni-critical, first-in-the-nation primary, hold open primaries, meaning that voter's can choose a ballot from any established party in their state.

Schweitzer mirrors many of Ron Paul's views on the fundamental foundation of American policy. Like Ron Paul, Schweitzer's excoriates the influence of "The Military Industrial Complex." He is a harsh critic of the U.S. war in Iraq, which he calls an "oil-well war to protect profits for multinational oil companies and petro-dictators." In addition, like Ron Paul, Schweitzer shows no trepidation in warning of the effects of "blowback" on Americans as the result of its interventionist foreign policy. He points out that the tension between the U.S. and Iran began "because of what we did in 1953, replacing an elected official [Prime Minster Mohammed Mossadegh] with a dictator [Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi]." Schweitzer also points out that the U.S. government supplied chemical weapons to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1980's, which were subsequently used against Iranians.

Rand Paul rarely mentions the concept of blowback. With a war-weary electorate, it is kosher in the Republican Party to call for what George W. Bush in 2000 called "a more humble foreign policy." However, once a Republican suggests that U.S. policies are a contributing factor to the enmity effectuated toward the U.S., he/she takes a step too far from the party establishment, which will invariably brand such a candidate as "a Blame America First Isolationist."

Furthermore, Schweitzer, like Ron Paul, is a populist critic of the high command of his own party, calling Barack Obama a "corporatist." Ron Paul was an incessant critic of George W. Bush. Like Paul, Schweitzer can appeal to Liberals and Libertarians with his criticisms of Barack Obama, particularly on Civil Liberties issues. Schweitzer calls revelations unearthed about the scope of the NSA Surveillance program "un-effen-believable."Like Ron Paul, Schweitzer declares the War on Drugs lost, saying that Colorado, which recently legalized marijuana, "might have it more right than the rest of us."

Not all Ron Paul supporters in 2008 and 2012 were Libertarians or Conservatives. In fact, many Progressive Independents and Democrats supported Paul. Political commentator Robin Koerner coined them "Blue Republicans." Paul drew support from across the political spectrum with voters and previous non-voters who believe the political system is corrupt. They supported Paul's populist insurrectionist campaign. Accordingly, the fact that Schweitzer, unlike Paul, supports a munificent social safety net, the establishment of a single-payer Health Care System might draw Paul's more liberal supporters to Schweitzer. In Schweitzer these "Blue Republicans" have a candidate who is more ideologically in tune with them than Ron Paul.

As Rand Paul assiduously cultivates support from within the Republican establishment, he becomes less desirable to the anti-establishment Libertarian, Independent, and Liberal voters who supported Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012.

As Rand Paul becomes more of a traditional Republican, an aperture will form for a candidate more like Ron Paul was in 2008 and 2012. Schweitzer is positioning himself as the anti-corporate political establishment candidate for 2016. His message can strike a resonant chord with the same voters who marked ballots for Ron Paul in 2012, particularly in Open Primary states. Many members of the motley Ron Paul coalition could support Schweitzer rather than Rand Paul. In states with a closed primary, some of these voters might become Democrats to vote for Schweitzer. Schweitzer would appeal to many disaffected voters with his characterization of the nation's capital as "A giant cesspool filled with special interests."

An opening is developing for Schweitzer. Crossover support could make him not merely a nuisance to the likely Democratic establishment candidates, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, but also an irritant to Rand Paul as he tries to keep his father's supporters in the Republican Primary. Bottom-line: for every rank-and-file Republican voter Rand Paul attracts, he could lose a voter from his father's coalition to Schweitzer.