When the presidential buzz began building around Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) a couple of years ago, the expectation was that his libertarian ideas could make him the most unusual and intriguing voice among the major contenders in the 2016 field.
But now, as he prepares to make his formal announcement Tuesday, Paul is a candidate who has turned fuzzy, having trimmed his positions and rhetoric so much that it’s unclear what kind of Republican he will present himself as when he takes the stage.
Paul’s problem in balancing his libertarian father’s base and the demands of a mainstream candidacy are not his only problems, but they are substantial. Timing is another.
The proximity of his announcement to the president’s “historic” non-deal deal with Iran could not be worse for Paul. The GOP’s opposition to the deal and craving for resolute leadership against the Iranian regime’s hegemonic ambitions are now front and center in the GOP presidential nominating contest, and none of the likely contenders is more ill suited to the task than Paul, who opposed Menendez-Kirk sanctions, once suggested a budget with no aid to Israel, entertained the idea of containment at a major address at the Heritage Foundation, opposed military action in defense of the red line against Bashar al-Assad (and praised Tehran’s junior partner as good for Christians) and does not think President Obama is primarily responsible for the mess in the Middle East. Of all the GOP contenders, he is closest in outlook to Hillary Clinton. And that is not where you want to be if you are running for the president as a Republican. Indeed, it is not unreasonable for some voters to conclude that on foreign policy Clinton would be stronger than Paul.
Paul’s problems are not limited to Iran or Israel. On the war against Islamic terrorists, he has mocked the idea that the war is being fought on a global battlefield. He wants to rip out the National Security Agency, frets about droning American jihadists who have taken up arms against the United States and adheres to much of the criminal justice mind-set (e.g. civil trials for detainees) that conservatives abhor. While he announced he would use force if need be against Iran and says he wants to annihilate the Islamic State, his words are at odds with his actions and his underlying philosophy, which follow the retrenchment and withdrawal-of-troops model that has proved disastrous for Obama.
Aside from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), no one has less experience, while the GOP governors have a better claim to both executive prowess and outsider status. His proposal for criminal justice reform is no different from the proposals of many other contenders. Numerous contenders have a better track record when it comes to attracting minority voters. There is slim evidence Berkeley students or Howard graduates are pining to register as Republicans and vote for a candidate who wants to radically slash government.
And finally, his thin-skinned demeanor and prickly defensiveness when challenged make a long and grueling campaign a disaster waiting to happen. How long before he next tries to shush a reporter or opponent?
In short, there is good reason for him to simultaneously run for Senate reelection. Frankly, Cruz has a better chance of becoming the nominee. There is a reason Paul’s polling has collapsed over theplast year or so and why he clocks in with single digits in many national and early state polls. On the most critical issues facing the country, he is the least likely to dramatically reverse Obama’s foreign policy. And that, for most Republicans, will make him unacceptable as their nominee.