THE BLOG
09/12/2014 10:49 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

Get Bland for Rand?

In 1967 and 68, politics was an "old man" endeavor. Then, the image of every political campaign, particularly for president, was typically of older white males. In those years, you had to be 21 to vote, and those that were that young and were involved went to lengths to look as mature as they could. Age meant credibility. In those years the masses of "hippie" youth looking for a way to get the US out of the Vietnam War were also seeking a presidential candidate that shared their values. A Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, got them in that war and the GOP gave the impression they wanted the US to expand the conflict. Enter Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN). McCarthy advocated a rapid withdrawal from Indochina and young people who agreed with that goal were quick to jump on board his presidential campaign. However, their long beard and "hippie" style had the potential of harming, rather than helping, the candidate. It was no surprise that there was a new message coming from the McCarthy campaign: "Get Clean for Gene." These young people did the unthinkable at the time, submitting their faces to razors and heads to clippers. Although McCarthy was eventually out performed by the surging campaign of Robert Kennedy (who was also opposed to the war and likely would have won his party's nomination if he had not been assassinated), the Minnesotan was successful in changing the debate.

Fast forward to 2008 and 2012 and the campaigns of Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX). In both of those efforts, the libertarian Republican had significant, but very temporary impacts on those elections. In 2012 in particular, Paul attracted huge audiences and even came in third in the Iowa caucus, but he could never get the momentum to win the nomination. His "coalition" was actually a fairly narrow group made up of old school (big "L") Libertarians who moved to his camp by the lure of possible electoral success, young people fed up with the disingenuous nature of politicians in both parties, extreme isolationists, free market advocates, and various other groups that believed this country needed a radical shift in direction. The fact that many of these groups seem to overlap in several areas only shows how narrow is his support. Ron Paul's supporters were often seen as "odd," "radical," even "dangerous" (particularly in the foreign policy arena).

If someone with a philosophy like Ron Paul was going to get elected, it would have to come from a much larger constituency. They would need to be a group that "toned it" down for their candidate and became a safe campaign for traditional Republicans to embrace. Ron Paul, at 79, appears to be done with electoral politics. His son, Rand, the Republican US Senator from Kentucky, has only recently begun his career and has already made frequent visits to Iowa to test the political waters. Many of his father's supporters are naturally gravitating to him, but he knows that it will require more than that constituency to get the nomination, let alone to actually win in November of 2016. That core constituency of libertarians, policy geeks, and isolationists will have to make room for those with differing, yet complimentary views. They might even have to "get bland for Rand."

I've known Rand since we were both in college. We were both recruited by the current chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, Steve Munisteri to join Young Conservatives of Texas. In college, his views were almost identical (if not more radical) than his father's. But we all grow up, I certainly have views that have modified over time. However, there is little doubt that the core positions of Ron Paul can be found in his son, Rand. In spite of this, the younger Paul is taking a different approach to building a constituency.

To win a major party's nomination, a candidate must have several different coalitions in his camp. Rand seems to recognize that. According to a recent article at NPR, Paul has become quite the savvy coalition builder in his efforts in Iowa.

According to the article, Paul has built credibility among many establishment Republicans in the state:

David Oman is an establishment Republican, having served two Republican governors as chief of staff. He recently hosted a GOP Senate campaign event at a senior center in Des Moines.

To Oman, Rand Paul is a very different kind of candidate from his father. 'Rand Paul is absolutely a serious contender. He is acquiring legs in our state; how he will fare in the caucuses remains to be seen,' he says. "But he's off to a more than decent start."

He goes on to say, that "my sense is that Sen. Paul is trying a different tack, and trying to run in at least part of a different channel. Taking advantage of what his father did, but being his own person."

Paul has gone on to appeal to minority voters by pointing out that although whites commit as many crimes as blacks, prisons are disproportionately filled with blacks.

Rand's father, Ron, advocated that every sovereign nation -- even Iran -- should have a nuclear bomb if it has the means to develop it. Many in the Ron Paul libertarian camp believe that self interest would prevent a country from using such, because it would be suicidal. I think most believe that some people are more ideologically than self interest driven. Eighteenth century foreign policy doesn't work with nuclear missiles minutes away. Rand Paul has had a difficult time articulating his own view and creating a "third way" when it comes to international and security issues. To wander too far from his core constituency will go both against his genuine convictions and those who support him. To advocate his father's position makes him a mere oddball.

Still, when pressed on such issues, Rand Paul has certainly gone much further than his father in advocating a more consensus position on security issues. According to NPR, "Paul had said recently that if he were president, he would go to Congress, explain the ISIS threat to national security and ask for 'authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.'" This is a decidedly different tact from his father who would have the nations that are suffering with these problems deal with them, rather than the "US taxpayer and soldier."

In the end, will a more pragmatic Rand Paul build a coalition that can win a national election? Will his core constituents tolerate a more mainstream Rand? Will they become "bland for Rand"? Only time will tell, but 2016 could be an important year for the libertarian wing of the GOP to develop a national constituency.