Ever since his attention-grabbing filibuster against the CIA director nominee over the use of drones and after winning the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has suddenly become the darling of the Republican party and is being cited as a serious contender for presidential candidate in the next election.
As a Democrat, I really hope that he will be the GOP's candidate in 2016, for, like Mitt Romney, he will self-destruct under the weight of his own torn loyalties.
There is a lot of speculation right now about the Republican electorate and how Paul could win over mainstream Republicans by softening his views while still holding on to his core libertarian voter base, and that might well happen -- but he will look extremely schizophrenic doing it. The inescapable fact is that Paul's victory in Kentucky, his image as a maverick politician, and basically his whole act revolves around being the anti-establishment senator, the enfant terrible of Washington, the fly in the ointment.
The moment he stops doing that, he will no longer be authentic.
Paul's recent change-of-heart on immigration reform is a clear indication of the trajectory his campaign for president would take. The closer he gets to 2016, the Kentucky senator is going to go further and further to the middle in order to win the support of those conservatives who consider him to be too purist even by their standards, while at the same time trying to remain true to his libertarian roots. This circus act can only work up to the final polls.
It is easy to be the dark horse candidate before the race itself has begun but not so easy when people actually start taking you seriously and questioning your views. I made the comparison to Romney because there are striking parallels between the two situations (if not the two men). At one time, while he was still a level-headed moderate, Romney was a very promising candidate for president. In fact, he scared the hell out of Democrats during the early days of his campaign by being smart, poised, and with a message that could appeal to a wide swath of Americans, including moderate liberals.
But then he swerved right, and it all came apart. In order to win the support of ultra-conservative voters and to raise money from the likes of the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, Romney the sensible candidate quickly became an extremist himself, both socially and fiscally -- to the point that he eventually had to backtrack on so many of his positions that it became hard to tell what he really believed.
That is what will happen to Rand Paul as well. If he does enter the race, I predict that he will tear himself apart running back and forth between the middle and the bizarre right-of-sanity place the libertarians occupy in order to serve two very different masters. That flip-flopping may win him the Republican nomination, especially since Tea Partiers will support him even if they consider him a sellout because of their inherent mistrust and hatred of GOP 'establishment' candidates, but it will lose him the support of independent voters, moderate liberals, and even conservatives who want steadfast leadership more than just ideological affinity -- just as it did in Romney's case.
It is telling that despite Romney's strong start, his strong business credentials, his polished personality, a soft economy, and Obama's disastrous showing in the first debate, the Republican did not only lose the electoral votes in many swing states but lost the popular vote as well. The majority of Americans (and clearly there were plenty of Republicans in this mix too) voted for the other guy. Romney's blunders, including his infamous 47 percent remark, his stubborn refusal to release his tax returns, his unpopular stance on immigration reform, his opposition to Obamacare despite having created a similar program as Governor of Massachusetts, his incoherent views on equal pay for women, gay marriage, and so much else all came out of his desire to please everyone at the same time.
Rand Paul comes from the opposite direction obviously, but his desire to gain wider support in the GOP will create similar results. If voters find the senator's current views unappealing, wait till they see him trying to be both for and against his own beliefs to get everyone on board. That will be a show worth watching. At the very least it will be entertaining, but more importantly, it will keep the White House in Democratic hands.
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of the financial thriller "Merger" (available below) which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit his Facebook Page 'Candid Politics & Business Blogs' for more blogs.