It's been a busy few weeks for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). First, there was his filibuster of John Brennan for head of the CIA on the grounds that his position on drones violates the Constitution, then there was his big shift on immigration, and now his vocal announcement in support of lenient marijuana laws! It is clear the senator is gearing up for a presidential run in 2016. His posturing marks a departure from the typical Republican Party platform of spending cuts, a strong military, low taxes, free markets, and implied racism. But just how good are Paul's chances for the White House? Like his father, former Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), these positions may make him a favorite among libertarians, and even some liberals and Latinos, but like father like son, there is another side to him that could interfere with presidential success.
Given the efficacy of the "etch-a-sketch" criticisms of Mitt Romney this past election, Senator Paul might have a problem because of his flip-flop on immigration. Until recently the senator has taken an oppositional stance on the same reforms he is now in favor of, specifically the legal path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. His former position made him a favorite with the Tea Party and hardcore conservatives -- after all, the GOP built its base with the Southern Strategy -- but if November proved anything, it was that there are no longer enough "angry white guys" to sway elections, as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) put it. Nativism doesn't do candidates any favors.
In 2010 Paul expressed his support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a position which today is increasingly considered to be a passe form of bigotry. While there are those who agree with the senator, every day there are fewer and fewer. His stance effectively alienates liberals, homosexuals, and even many conservatives.
The abortion battle was won in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a woman had a right to choose as a matter of privacy, and yet Senator Paul is on the other side of this issue as well. Again, though there is still a large percentage of Americans who agree with him, the battle has been lost. The likelihood of abortion being outlawed at this stage in the game is slim to none given that the current conservative Supreme Court has not yet overturned Roe, nor did any legislation to that effect get passed during the combined presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.
Senator Paul is also a firm believer in the radical free market, an ideology that became widely popular during the Reagan years and lasted until recently. The mantra is simple: cut taxes, especially for the top, privatize, and keep the government too small and weak to effectively regulate business, allowing the markets to dictate. Mitt Romney lost the November election campaigning on these principles. People heard Medicare vouchers, privatized Social Security, and trickle-down and they balked. Many consider the election indicative of a realignment representing the death of the Reagan Era. As Occupy indicated, Americans favor more government involvement in the economy. The Republicans didn't take notice and were rejected so thoroughly that the Democrats won electoral majorities in all three national races. Yet Paul's radicalism goes one step beyond Mitt Romney's platform. Not only does he want to repeal Obamacare and support privatization of Medicare and Social Security, he opposes the Americans With Disabilities Act, and has voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps more controversial, he believes in an absolute right to bear arms which is a view not shared by Justice Antonin Scalia, and in light of the recent gun debate where the majority of Americans favor stricter regulations on firearms, will do him no favors in a general election.
And then of course, there's always Benghazi, the issue upon which Senator Paul built clout within his party. Paul, like many within the GOP, was determined to find a scandal. When the issue came up in the election however, it failed to be Romney's silver bullet, and did not alter the outcome. That should have been the tip off, but unsurprisingly, the Republicans desperately held onto it. The ensuing Senate hearings did them no favors as Hillary Clinton, appearing composed and rational, easily answered every question posed to her. Paul's performance however, was galvanizing. He called the murders of four Americans "the worst tragedy since 9/11" which Rick Ungar of Forbes magazine called "disturbing," and said that his "desire to score points and show himself to be a 'tough guy' serves only to reveal how incredibly unprepared and unqualified he is to be holding elected office as a county dog catcher let alone considering a run for the highest office in the land."
It seems clear that Senator Paul is aiming to become the establishment within the GOP which would separate him from his father whose presidential chances were demolished by the fact that he was considered fringe even within his own party. He has even managed to bring over the Tea Party on immigration, but there is always the question of what the outcome of his efforts. Could this be the split between the Tea Party and the establishment in the GOP? What's more his opposition to neoliberal foreign policy is undeniably popular among the youth, and his new position on immigration is necessary, but is that enough to overshadow the rest of his controversial beliefs? Beyond that there is always the problem that many of his positions line up more closely with progressives who would rather vote Democratic. No matter what happens, Senator Paul represents a redefining of America's conservative party, and regardless of how electable he is now, his posturing should send a clear message to Democrats: Wake up and have the courage go left.