Add to Technorati Favorites Presidential Politics for America: Candidate Profile: #5. Rand Paul

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Candidate Profile: #5. Rand Paul

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki
(15.5. James Gilmore)
15. Lindsey Graham
14. Carly Fiorina

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum
12. Mike Huckabee
11. Donald Trump
10. Bobby Jindal

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry
8. Ben Carson
7. Ted Cruz
6. John Kasich

Into the top five we go!  The fifth most likely Republican nominee is . . .

Rand Paul, 52, senator from Kentucky, 2011-current

Campaign Website and"Defeat the Washington Machine"

PPFA Slogan--"I'm Totally More Mainstream Than My Dad Unless You're a Libertarian in Which Case I'm Totally Just Like My Dad!"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +2.5 (Individual rights: +5; domestic issues: +3; economy: +3; foreign policy: -1). Paul, like many Republolibertarian hybrids (which sounds like a SyFy movie), are hard to pinpoint on a liberal-conservative spectrum. They appear extremely conservative on some specific issues and extremely liberal in others. For example, if we look at his record on "Individual Rights," he gets a full +10 on abortion and environmental issues, but he also gets a full -10 on enforcing voting rights. No other candidate has such a violent swing in subcategories, but since all we use for determining his left-right score is the average, he gets a +5 on Individual Rights.

When we move on to Domestic Issues, we again see massive disparity. Of its six subcategories, he gets a +10 on four (guns, Obamacare, school choice, and green energy) while a full -10 on the other two (crime and punishment and marijuana legalization)!  The result: an average of +3, which does not grasp the deviation of the subcategories.

And then we get to his most liberal category: foreign policy. In its four subcategories, he gets a full +10 on free trade, but he scores negative numbers in the three other areas (expanding the military, sovereignty from the UN, and Iran). That ultimately gives him a liberal score on foreign policy.

Conservative Rank based on above: 15 of 16. Again, see above. Paul's supporters would cry foul at this second-most-liberal ranking, but his libertarian streak is impossible to chart on the left-right spectrum. I'd agree with his supporters; he is an extremely conservative candidate on most issues, but his few very liberal positions corrupt his left-right average. Simply put, the website I've used for these rankings is unreliable when trying to quantify Rand Paul's ideology.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--The Messiah! "I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government." His About page repeatedly hammers home that message. He is an "outspoken champion for constitutional liberties and fiscal responsibility." He's "a fierce advocate against government overreach" and "has fought tirelessly to return government to its limited, constitutional scope." He's "been fighting big government his entire adult life" and "is running for president to restore liberty." You can see why libertarians fawn over the man. His Issues page rips the snooping NSA, ballooning debt, and cumbersome tax code (which he wants to rip up and replace with a simple 14.5 percent flat tax across the board that would simplify your taxes and catalyze enormous economic growth), while championing individual liberties, the Second Amendment, and the sanctity of life. His message is clear: he wants as much government as is necessary and no more. Who can forget his Tea Party response to President Obama's State of the Union, or his epic 13-hour filibuster to get answers from the Obama Administration about drone strikes, or his 10-hour filibuster to block the Patriot Act? Those filibusters took "Stand With Rand" to new heights.

Showing his broad appeal, he has earned a lot of grassroots support. Of all Republican candidates, he has the second highest percentage of contributions from donations of $200 or less. Yet, in total, he still ranks on the fop five in hard (non-SuperPAC) money raised among Republicans, even though most of the candidates ahead of him are getting big checks from big Republicans. Instead, Paul stands for everyday working Republicans who are sick of getting told by big party donors who their candidate will be. He even told the Freedom Summit, organized by Citizens United, which was behind the legalization of SuperPACs, that the GOP should not be the party of "fat cats, rich people and Wall Street," saying that conservatives "are the middle class."

His popularity among conservatives has been evident at the annual, high profile Conservative Political Action Conference. He has won CPAC's straw poll three years running. The 2012 winner? Mitt Romney, the last Republican nominee for president.  Previous winners include George W. Bush in 2000 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Might they have again picked the Republican nominee? (There were no CPAC straw polls in 1988, 92, 96, or 2004. McCain came in second by a percentage point behind Romney in 2008.)

Spin from opponents--False prophet! Let's remember who his father is--the problematic Ron Paul. There's a reason the party didn't support that libertarian, just like they won't support this one. If the Pauls had their way, they would scale back the American military and isolate it from the rest of the world. That is not an option. We live in dangerous times. Putin's Russia looms to the east of our European allies, ISIS and Al Qaeda continue to wreak havoc in the Arab world, and China is increasingly competitive as a world superpower. The U.S. needs to be active leaders on the world stage while protecting democracy and liberty. This is not the time for America to tuck its tail and go home.

Elect a Paul and it will do just that. He consistently shirks his own party on key issues, as NBCNews tells us:
"But Paul has broken with GOP orthodoxy on a number of national security policies: supporting Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba; pledging to end the NSA program by which the U.S. government has collected the phone data of millions of Americans; suggesting the U.S. should engage in direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program; and saying he would oppose U.S. airstrikes in Iraq to fight ISIS, a position he has since reversed. 
"While polls suggest some younger Republicans agree with Paul, most of the party's members in Congress adamantly oppose these positions, isolating the Kentucky senator within the GOP."
And how about that time he didn't adoringly cheer on Israel's Prime Minister when he addressed Congress? A Republican who has "isolated" himself from the Republican Party just as he would like to isolate America from the world cannot be this party's nominee. His supporters will claim it's because he's actually a libertarian, but he's not even that good a libertarian, and he's admitted he's not one. The inconsistency of his ideology and unwillingness to embrace GOP values shows he's not presidential material, especially as a nominee of the Republican Party.

How do the polls look?--His Real Clear Politics national average is 5.6 for seventh place. He's been damaged by the surge of #11 Donald Trump just like everyone else near the top. In Iowa, his solid 8.5 is good enough for a tie for third with Trump behind front-runners Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. In fact, his average is only 0.4 behind Jeb Bush for second place in the state. The fact that he's beating out Huckabee and matching post-surge Trump shows how strong Iowa's Paul network continues to be, just as it did with his father. His New Hampshire RCP average is 8.8, putting him fourth place behind Bush, Trump, and Walker. It seems that after Trump's inevitable collapse, Paul will be running like a top three candidate in the two opening states. In South Carolina, his 5.7 puts him down at eighth place, but strong showings in the first two states would help his chances there and thereafter.

One more poll is of note. Real Clear Politics has been keeping track of head-to-head theoreticals between Clinton and nine different Republican opponents: Bush, Walker, Rubio, Trump, Cruz, Huckabee, Christie, Carson, and Paul. All trail Clinton, but the candidate who polls best is Rand Paul, trailing by an average of 5.2.  (Coming in last, it's worth saying, is Trump, who trails by an average of 17.8.)

PPFA analysis--It's that head-to-head figure that Paul's supporters will point to when identifying him as the candidate best equipped to go up against Hillary Clinton in a general election. But can he survive the Republican Primary first?

The case against Paul's chances at the nomination was made in the spin section earlier. He is way out of lockstep with the Republican Party on matters of foreign policy and a few other issues (Marijuana should be legal! Government should stay out of marriage! Republican presidents have exploded the debt!). But in a way, that's also the case for Paul's chances at the nomination.

A theme of the other "candidate profiles" in Tier 2 has been those candidates' strategies to be the alternative to their counterpart in the top tier. If we look at #9 Rick Perry, for example, he wants to be the conservative governor alternative to Scott Walker, while #6 John Kasich wants to be the moderate governor alternative to Jeb Bush. With #7 Ted Cruz, he sees flaws with conservatives who are polling well--#8 Ben Carson has no political or military experience while #12 Mike Huckabee is not a fiscal conservative--and expects to coalesce their support to win Iowa and beyond. When you're Tier 2, this strategy is probably your best bet.

But Paul out "alternatives" the entire field. He offers something different than just about every other candidate, so he might be able to piece together a sizable coalition. He can obviously play to the party's libertarian wing, his flat tax proposal and criticism of Republican spending is adored by fiscal conservatives, he has won the last three CPAC straw polls showing his broad strength with archconservatives, he had been flirting with the Tea Party (with major competition from Ted Cruz), and it makes sense that most anti-war Republicans would back him. But the question is, can winning a plurality of each of these pieces be enough to win the nomination against mainstream opponents? Moreover, is it possible to hold onto his father's libertarian fanatics while also courting and convincing Republicans that he's also one of them?

Perhaps not. In his effort to woo the establishment, he has softened his libertarian position. He went from vowing to cut Pentagon spending to proposing a nearly $200 billion increase. Whereas a libertarian would want a strict division between church and state, to court evangelicals he's injected religion into his politics, going so far as to say that the First Amendment only meant to keep government out of religion, not the other way around. After the Supreme Court same sex marriage decision, he carefully tried to walk the tightrope between libertarianism and evangelicalism. He split with Tea Party favs Rubio and Cruz by voting for a recent health care spending bill that will increase the debt by a half trillion dollars. In sum, he's at once vowing to change the Republican Party while becoming more and more Republican to do it.

Therein lies the problem. In trying to broaden his father's base, he might be losing a base of his own.  Every time he cozies up to the Tea Party, he loses a moderate. Every time he defends Republicans, he loses a libertarian. And he just can't figure out if a dove in the hand is better than two hawks in the bush.

PPFA nomination rank--5 of 16 (Odds: 15:1). Ultimately, the upside of his coalition gives him a higher upside than anyone below him on this list. The best comparison out there is probably #7 Cruz. They vote similarly. Again this week they're prominent allies trying to hold up the federal highway bill. However, the polls and logic agree with Paul--he's just more electable. Whereas the center might embrace Paul due to his cross-party appeal, it could be cautious of a Cruz candidacy that merely excites the conservative base. His ranking above #6 John Kasich is due to Paul being able to win without a complete Bush implosion.

PPFA general election rank--3 of 16. In an election against Hillary Clinton, establishment Republicans will turn out for their nominee. Meanwhile, Paul excites enough conservatives while also appealing to moderates that he could make inroads with independents. There's a reason no other candidate does better in head-to-heads with Clinton. However, some of his extreme conservative opinions would also turn out the Democratic base, whereas someone like Kasich is at least tolerable to some of them.

Four candidates remaining! Boy, I'm getting tired. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @PPFAmerica. Yesterday I tweeted a sneak preview of #5. I'll do that with #4 again tomorrow.

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