The Courier-Journal reports, “The Kentucky Republican Party’s Executive Committee gave preliminary approval Saturday to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s request to hold a presidential caucus in 2016 rather than a primary election. The move would rescue Paul from the consequences of a state law that could have prevented him from seeking both the presidential nomination and renomination for his Senate seat simultaneously.”
This is the appropriate result achieved by the correct means. Previously, Paul, usually a staunch defender of states’ 10th Amendment rights, said he was prepared to challenge state law on the grounds that states lacked the power to put in place such restrictions on candidates. (In essence, it advocates federal preemption of election laws of various types.) The question, I would suggest, is not a constitutional one but one of propriety: Should candidates run for two offices?
At some level, it becomes problematic to tell voters that you really, really want to be president but if not, you’ll settle for the Senate. (Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida specifically ruled out doing so.) But voters can decide for themselves if they want a Senate seat to be a consolation prize. If they resent using the Senate as a stepping stone to the White House, treating it as essentially a forum in which to grandstand and campaign for higher office rather than legislate, voters can choose someone else. But in general, I don’t favor these kinds of ballot restrictions including term limits; they infantilize voters, who should be able to decide for themselves whether they want life-long pols or those who are not willing to devote themselves entirely to one job.
More important, it is healthy for the GOP and the country to see how unwise and unpopular is the anti-interventionist foreign policy Paul espouses. GOP candidates and the eventual nominee need to get into fighting form, and there is no better way than to practice on a stand-in for an Obama-type foreign policy, a pro-Cuba normalization advocate, an opponent of all foreign aid, a demagogue who would curtail effective anti-terrorism programs such as the National Security Agency and criminalize war-fighting, a defender for years of non-intervention in Syria and withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and an opponent of Menendez-Kirk sanctions. It is the best warm-up, in other words, for the general election in which Hillary Clinton or some other acolyte of Obama will be running. Paul once mused that we should not rule out containment of a nuclear-armed Iran; and now we have a president headed in precisely that direction. The debate could therefore not be any more timely.
Granted, Paul has fallen into single digits in many early polls and generally comes in behind even long shot Ben Carson. That said, presumably he still wants to run. Sometimes it is as important whom a party rejects and what ideas it repudiates as it is the candidate and ideas they embrace. In this case, Paul would help get the party into fighting mode for a general election that likely will turn to a larger extent than usual on national security. As with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who is doing even worse in early polling and has been eclipsed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, there is nothing like a poor showing in a number of states to dispel a pol’s self-importance and the media’s willingness to paint those who are actually fringe candidates as the embodiment of the modern GOP.