The Washington Post

It’s time to start taking Rand Paul seriously

Two things happened over the weekend in the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

1. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul led the field in a national poll conducted by CNN/ORC International.

2. Paul won the straw poll at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., on March 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Those two events come just a week after Paul cruised to another 2016 straw poll victory at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Add those things up and it's quite clear that Paul is the candidate of the moment on the Republican side.  There's no one  -- not even Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush -- who has the sort of devoted following of Paul. And, the Kentucky senator has a number of other built-in advantages over the other oft-mentioned 2016 candidates -- many of them due to his father's bids for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2012.

To wit:

* Fundraising. Then Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) raised $35 million for his 2008 presidential campaign and collected $41 million for his 2012 campaign. The $35 million figure is probably the floor of what the younger Paul can raise in 2016, a total he can harvest simply by re-upping with many of the same people who gave to his father. That's a significant nest egg on which to start a presidential primary campaign in which the field is likely to be very crowded -- meaning that the cash pie will be split a million (ha ha) different ways. Paul, unlike anyone else in the field, has a fundraising stream almost all to himself. People who gave to his father in 2008/2012 are not the sort of people who are traditional Republican establishment donors; they are for Paul or no one.  And, there is evidence that Paul the younger isn't content with just collecting checks from his father's network. He was in Atlanta in January, for example, meeting and greeting establishment donor types, one of a series of such events that he has done over the past months.

* Iowa and New Hampshire. It's easy to forget how well Ron Paul did in both early-voting states in 2012. In Iowa, he came in third -- behind Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney -- with 21.5 percent of the caucus vote. He was less than 4,000 total votes away from winning. In New Hampshire, Ron Paul finished second with 23 percent -- wracking up almost 57,000 votes in the process. Combine his showing in those two states and Ron Paul did considerably better in actually attracting votes than more "establishment" candidates like Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty.  So strong was the Paul organization in Iowa that it wound up taking over the state party apparatus -- although A.J. Spiker's decision not to run for a second term as party chairman will remove one prominent Paul-ite from the ranks of the Iowa Republican leadership.

* Libertarianism on the rise. There is, without question, an expanding libertarian streak within the Republican party -- particularly among younger voters. The ideas of limiting foreign entanglements, spending less time cracking down on marijuana use and being OK with same-sex marriage are all growing in terms of their mindshare within the GOP. Need evidence? Six in ten young Republicans -- defined as between 18-30 years of age -- are in favor of same sex marriage in new Pew data. Rand Paul is positioned at the center of this movement and, if he is able to mobilize these libertarian-tinged Republicans, has a bloc of voters that none of the other Republican candidates can tap into.

If you add up the advantages that come from inheriting his father's (underrated) political and fundraising operation with Rand's ability to soften the edges around his libertarianism -- in a way his father never could or didn't want to do -- you have a candidate with a unique and lasting appeal to a segment of Republicans. Questions, obviously, remain. Among them: 1) How big a segment of Republicans are Paul-ites and can he grow their ranks? 2) How will Paul hold up under the increased scrutiny that comes with being seen as a genuine presidential contender? 3) Has he put plagiarism, civil rights and aqua buddha behind him? Or are those just a sampling of the political problems Paul might encounter going forward? (Make sure to read Dave Weigel's piece on the overrating of Rand.)

But, every candidate in the potential 2016 Republican field has questions he or she needs to answer. None have the built-in infrastructural advantages that Paul enjoys. That's why it's past time people start taking him seriously as a potential Republican nominee.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.