Rand Paul has shown himself to be a serious politician who understands the political landscape. He is attempting to do what his dad could not and what other libertarians have failed at, and that is to bring libertarian viewpoints into the mainstream.
A friend of mine once observed that if you have a million listeners a day, you have a hit radio show but if you have million voters; you have the libertarian Party. As a party, Libertarians never have garner more than a million votes for the Presidency and in most state races; Libertarians are lucky to collect 1 or 2% of the vote. This is not to say that Libertarians are wrong, just that they have never established the political organization to be a factor.
Ron Paul‘s biggest influence never came when he was a Libertarian candidate, but when he ran in the Republican primary over the past two elections. I would suspect he garnered more votes as a Republican than he ever did or could as a Libertarian. Ron Paul’s influence is starting to be felt as many of his supporters have gone back to grass roots politics with the idea of controlling the local party machines. The leadership of the Iowa political machine is dominated by Ron Paul supporters who took over after the Iowa caucus. Paul’s machine is learning that to win in the long term means having access to a major Party apparatus. The Libertarian movement as a separate political identity has reached its limit but their ideas are now having an impact.
Rand Paul advantages lies with several factors. The first is that his father has shown that there are enough Republicans ready for Libertarian ideas; many of them younger voters who are willing to listen to the message. Rand Paul is a better retail politician than his father ever could hope to be. Ron Paul’s political base was a heavily Republican congressional district in Texas but Rand Paul has won a state wide seat in Kentucky. While Kentucky is a red state, it is also a state that a Democrat can win and Paul showed political skills in overcoming the Republican establishment and then managing to unite the Party in the general election to win an easy victory by 11 points. Ron Paul left the impression that he didn’t care if he won or lost an election, it was about the principle. Whereas his son understands that a little politics is needed to push an agenda.
This could be seen in how they promote their non-interventionist policy. Ron Paul’s critique of American foreign policy has been consistent regardless of who was President. But his critique often resembled the left; it is America’s fault. For many years, many isolationists viewed that American interventionist policy would lead to the world contaminating America and an expansion of governmental powers. Paul accepted the leftist view that it is America who is the major problem in the world.
One glimpse into into both Paul’s worldview was shown in his cross examination of John Kerry’s nomination when Rand Paul asked Kerry why was it evil for America to bomb Cambodia in the 70s but it is okay to bomb Libya in 2012? This question summed up both Ron and Rand’s own view on consistency and a small government approach to foreign affairs.
Rand Paul’s critique is similar to the old right view that American interventionist policy leads to an expansion of government at home and world instability, but he never publicly viewed America as the source of evil. His unabashed support of Israel stands in stark contrast to others in the non-interventionist movement. He also doesn’t support an activist America policy in the region. There is a difference between standing with Israel and intervening in Libya or Syria. His support of Israel is a signal to many evangelical Christians that he is on their side.
The two biggest challenges to Rand Paul will be his relations with the social conservatives and mainstream Republicans. When it comes to foreign policy, Paul will continue the non-interventionist policy of his dad even it means a change in the nuance of how that policy is stated. The second is his position on many social issues. He is pro-life and like many pro-life libertarian, he views the right to be born as part of the Jefferson written trifecta of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He views the issue through a prism, not as a right of woman to choose, but that both the unborn and the mother are entitled to the right of life.
On the issues of drugs and same sex marriage, his position has more nuances. While he does not approve of same sex marriage personally and certainly, one doesn’t expect Rand Paul to smoke joints on a daily basis, he views that the issues should be decided by the people themselves. As for the drug war, Paul shares libertarian skepticism toward the drug war and its efficacy. Paul’s view is that those items not mentioned in the constitution like same-sex marriage or the drug war are best left to the people and localities. These are the areas where Paul will push for the limited government, particularly the federal government, in our lives.
Paul’s point to social conservatives is that there are issues best left to the people and while he may not believe in a constitutional right for gays to be married; he is perfectly willing to allow individuals to make decisions themselves.
This brings us to the key aspect of his challenge; bringing Libertarian’s into the mainstream which means Libertarian ideas must be part of a major Political Party platform. While many younger conservatives find Paul’s libertarian views appealing; many of their parents do no. The final challenge to Paul’s political aspirations is that while many Americans find his social libertarian views appealing, they have yet accept his economic vision of smaller government. If they did, Obama would not have won.