Rob Horowitz: Rand Paul: One of the Early Republican Frontrunners
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
First, let’s get the all-important caveats out of the way. The CPAC straw poll—which Rand Paul’s father Ron won twice without ever getting within shouting distance of the nomination—is far from a reliable indicator of who will end up as the nominee. Further, early national polls measure mainly name recognition and are of limited value in presidential nominating contests that are, after all, conducted state-by-state. And most importantly, it is nearly two years until the first actual caucus and primary votes will be cast; much can and will happen to shape the ultimate outcome during that time.
Ahead of the competition
Still, more than any other potential Republican presidential contender, Rand Paul has astutely filled the media vacuum in the initial coverage of the developing 2016 presidential contest, brought about by the precipitous decline in Governor Chris Christie’s (R-NJ) presidential prospects due to a multi-faceted abuse of power scandal with a hard to discern end point. (Disclosure: Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who has come forward and charged the Christie administration with tying aid for Hurricane Sandy to the approval of a large scale redevelopment project, is an election client of mine.)
While a more established Republican such as Jeb Bush—who would be competing for the same kinds of voters and many of the same contributors—may ultimately benefit the most if Governor Christie can not recover politically, in the short-term it is undeniable that Paul has gained the most political oxygen.
Rand Paul offers a less doctrinaire and hard-edged version of the libertarian ideology championed by his father. He hopes to build an expansive new coalition that combines economic conservatives with younger voters who tend to be more skeptical of foreign involvements, moderate on social issues, and concerned about invasions of privacy in the name of national security.
Recently Paul joined with President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder in advocating restoring voting rights for non-violent ex-felons. Sounding not at all like a typical traditional conservative, Senator Paul said, “When you look at who is being deprived of voting they are disproportionately people of color." He is also a leader in the Senate in opposing warrantless wiretapping and other measures some view as essential to protecting the nation from another terrorist attack, arguing they are infringements on personal freedoms. “The Fourth Amendment is just as important as the Second Amendment,” said Paul this past weekend on FOX News Sunday.
Paul has recently come under fire from prominent neoconservatives, including Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, for being too soft on relations with Russia, a potentially damaging charge in the wake of recent events in the Ukraine. This is part of a general neoconservative critique that Paul is too much of an isolationist who would reduce America’s standing in the world if elected. When asked about this on FOX News Sunday, Rand Paul—in a major departure from his father, who was and is a consistent Reagan critic, as well as from libertarian foreign policy orthodoxy—explicitly said that his views on the use of military force are in line with the former president. To drive this point home, Rand Paul approvingly quoted Reagan, “Don't mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.”
Senator Paul’s intriguing effort to forge a more mainstream big tent libertarianism—attracting new voters to the Republican primaries and caucuses while still capturing a large enough slice of the traditional Republican primary electorate—will be fascinating to watch. Even if Paul fails to gain the nomination, it is of potential consequence in terms of the development of new thinking in the party. And in what is shaping up to be a wide-open race for the nomination, I would not count Rand Paul out.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s Most and Least Popular Politicians
The statewide poll conducted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University in October 2013 is the latest public opinion survey by the Ivy League institution.
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