Rand Paul Rand Paul on the floor of the Senate (Associated Press)

Rand Paul will get a lot of votes when he runs for president.

He represents a growing strain in American politics: libertarianism. His variety has been softened from the nativist/racist strains that infected the candidacy of George Wallace and Lyndon LaRouche (although one could argue that Paul’s initial comment in his 2010 Senate race about leaving civil rights laws up to the states might have made Wallace smile).

Paul represents a powerful idea in American politics: Government is the antithesis to freedom.  He could appeal to downscale populist voters who see Wall Street and other monied interests as relegating them to second-class citizens, as well as more upscale suburbanites who are more classically libertarian on social and economic issues. He also has touched on a potentially new and powerful argument: privacy.  He would be wise to extend his critique of America’s drone program into a more general indictment of how government and corporations are using personal information in other creepy and potentially harmful ways.

It’s unclear whether Paul will fare any better as a major-party candidate than his father did, and not since Wallace has any third-party presidential candidate won a single electoral college vote. Not John B. Anderson, Ross Perot or Ralph Nader.

The younger Paul may be still be a tad bit scary on defense issues to mainstream Republicans, a little soft on gay marriage for evangelicals and squishy on immigration for the remaining nativists. But he will make things interesting, and he already has a better platform for publicity than his father ever did — and Ron Paul, remember, broke double-digits in most of the Republican primaries.  Which major-party candidate might ultimately benefit from a Rand Paul third-party bid is unclear, but don’t rule him out as a potential winner of the Republican nomination outright.