Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s endorsement of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s presidential bid on Thursday night is more important than it might seem at first glance.
But, remember that this is Rand Paul, the scion to the political legacy of his father, Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The Pauls have built a political base entirely independent of the Republican party and that’s why Rand’s endorsement is intriguing — for two reasons.
Before we get to that, let’s look at what Rand Paul said on Thursday night on Sean Hannity’s show:
“My first choice had always been my father. I campaigned for him when I was 11-years-old. He’s still my first pick, but now that the nominating process is over, tonight I’m happy to announce that I’m going to be supporting Gov. Mitt Romney.”
It might not be exactly the endorsement Romney might have wanted — two thirds of it was spent pumping up Ron Paul with the Romney endorsement as an afterthought — but it is genuinely important to have Rand Paul on the record in support of Romney.
As we have seen over the last few months, the Paul forces have the very real ability to not only disrupt the choosing of delegates to the Republican National Convention but also influence (and change) the leadership at various state parties around the country.
Does Rand Paul endorsing Romney mean that the Paul acolytes will immediately cease and desist in their efforts to have their views heard? No. But more so than most people who support a politician, the Paul folks listen to Ron/Rand and follow their wishes.
Rand’s endorsement then — when coupled with Ron’s email to supporters earlier this week urging politeness at the national convention — are a net win for Romney because they virtually ensure that there won’t be a genuine insurrection led by supporters of Paul at the convention. (Expect Romney to give Rand/Ron speaking slots at the convention too in hopes of throwing a sop to the Paul acolytes and push the theme of inclusion and big-tented-ness.)
The second way Rand Paul’s endorsement matters is as it relates to the Kentucky Senator’s own future national prospects.
It’s an open secret in Washington that Rand Paul wants to — and will — run for president either in 2016 or 2020. In the spring of 2011, in fact, Rand Paul speculated that he might run in 2012 if his father decided against a bid.
To do that and have a genuine chance at winning, Rand Paul can’t have the Republican establishment in open revolt against him. He knows that. His dad knows that. (It’s why we still believe Ron Paul won’t pursue a third party bid this fall.)
In making clear that he is publicly behind Romney, Rand Paul is sending a very clear signal: I’m a good soldier for the GOP.
Make no mistake: The Republican party establishment will never embrace Rand Paul as one of their own — nor would he want them to. But, it is possible that Paul playing the role of loyal Republican in the 2012 election could well neutralize some of the fears the party regulars have about the prospects of him carrying their standard at some point down the line.
The lesson? Sometimes — actually almost always — in politics there’s more than meets the eye.