This is the question that many republican insiders are asking themselves in the lead up to the candidate primaries. Although Senator Rand Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy views and strong focus on protecting civil liberties helps distinguish him in an increasingly crowded field of Republican contenders, such views are mutually exclusive with the concerns many mainstream Republicans hold in relation to the rise of the Islamic State, the threat of terrorism and the crisis of illegal immigration through the United States’ porous borders. As more attention is paid to the Kentucky senator, the more strident criticism is directed at both his domestic and foreign policies.
A recent poll of political insiders conducted for POLITICO found that 61 per cent of respondents believed that Paul’s libertarian positions help to differentiate him from other candidates in the race for the Republican nomination. Interestingly, this number dropped to 48 per cent amongst respondents who identified themselves as Republicans. By nailing his colors to the mast early, Paul appears to be ignoring the famous maxim that Republican presidential hopefuls need to go as far as they can to the right to win the nomination and then as far as they can to the left to win the presidency.
Rand Paul is also stuck in the strange position of being too dovish for many mainstream Republicans but also being too hawkish for many fringe Republican and independent libertarians. The former are concerned by Paul’s historical stance against intervention whereas the latter are concerned about the concessions the Kentucky senator has made in the wake of his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Similarly, mainstream Republicans dislike the way Rand Paul has opposed the PATRIOT Act and the USA Freedom Act, perceiving it as disregard for national security. More radical libertarians, such as those that formed the support base for his father Ron Paul, see Rand Paul’s attempts to market himself to more mainstream Republicans as a betrayal of his roots.
Paul’s strong stances on the PATRIOT Act and USA Freedom Act, as well as his aversion to foreign intervention show libertarian and libertarian-minded Republicans that he is their candidate, rather than other contenders such as Ted Cruz. There are only so many libertarians within the Republican Party however and although Rand Paul may be able to convince sections of the Tea Party movement to unite behind the small government and constitutionalist elements of his platform, it is unclear whether their support will be enough to snag him the nomination. Undoubtedly the forces arrayed against him within his own party are formidable and many of his opponents will take heart in the veritable magazine of ammunition that the senator has supplied to them by not “playing it safe” and standing up for his principles.
Rand Paul as Republican nominee
What is certain is that if Rand Paul were to win the nomination, he would give Hillary Clinton a run for her money. Rand’s stance on social issues and civil liberties resonate with young voters and even those who identify as Democrats. Similarly, his opposition to foreign intervention would be attractive to many Democrats who opposed the Iraq War. There are many aspects of the Senator’s small government agenda which would be repugnant to many of these voters however, such as his opposition to universal healthcare and many aspects of social security.
Even if he were to take the White House, Paul would be in for a tough term. It is unlikely that even a Republican-controlled House and Senate would agree to the demands of Rand Paul. National security concerns run deep and even though Paul asserts that the choice between safety and civil liberties is a false dichotomy, there are few legislators who share his views on this matter. It would therefore seem that any attempts to dismantle the NSA surveillance apparatus and data retention programs would be doomed to fail. Likewise, the United States has always intervened in the affairs of foreign nations to protect and enhance its economic interests: from the wars on the Barbary Pirates to intervention in Latin America. It would be beyond even the most determined of presidents to rout the efforts of strongly entrenched interest groups and proponents of economic concerns in favour of foreign intervention.
Although Rand Paul will certainly provide some color to the Republican race and perhaps even the general election, it is unlikely that we will ever see him in the White House. This is America’s loss as many of his policies could get government out the way and focus the United States on its core business of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.