By Roger J. Stone Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has done more towards redefining the Republican Party and drawing the battle lines for the party's future struggle in the last three weeks than his father, Congressman Ron Paul, did in three energetic and well-covered campaigns for president. Staking out positions on drones, drugs and immigration the Kentucky Senator looms larger and larger in the GOP. Using the bully-pulpit of his Senate seat, Senator Paul conducted a filibuster on US drone policy which established him, and those Tea Party Senators who aided his filibuster, as the true civil libertarians of our day. It is amusing that anti-war liberal democrats in the Senate who claim to be civil libertarians sat back mute as Senator Paul galvanized public attention to a misguided U.S. policy and forced the Administration to state that U.S. citizens cannot be killed by drones on U.S., soil without trial and conviction. Interestingly, Paul's aggressive move to lead the Republican Party in a new direction comes on the heels of a party "autopsy" report analyzing the party's problems in the last election. Autopsy is a strange definition for the report since autopsies are only conducted on bodies that are dead. Party insiders who were appointed to conduct a review, several of whom are partially responsible for the sorry state of the Party's brand, concluded the obvious; the party must reach out to younger voters and must deal with the growing diversity of the US population by attracting the votes of more Hispanics. Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Senator Paul laid out an appeal to younger voters. As The New York Times reported, "Mr. Paul gave a nod to easing penalties for illegal drug use, which is anathema to many traditional, law-and-order Republicans but is popular among younger votes the party has struggled to reach."Ask the Facebook generation whether we should put a kid in jail for the nonviolent crime of drug use and you'll hear a resounding 'No' he said." Paul expressed a similar concern to Fox News host Chris Wallace pointing out that the last two Presidents could have been conceivably jailed, with their lives inevitably stifled or ruined, due to marijuana use. Ben Jacobs, in The Daily Beast noted that Rand Paul, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference "urged a Libertarian approach that was equally skeptical of drug laws and drone warfare as a way to reach out to "the Facebook generation." It seemed to resonate as a cheering crowd of young people holding "Stand with Rand" signs filled the room. Senator Paul also staked out a more moderate position on immigration. As The New York Times reported it, "Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Tea Party Republican, on Tuesday become the latest to embrace a more welcoming approach, declaring to the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants that if they want to work in American, "then we will find a place for you. While he never uttered the word "citizenship" and said a secure border must come first, Mr. Paul strongly implied that citizenship would eventually be available to them." Senator Paul's recent trip to Israel and his support for national defense signaled voters that he is not the isolationist his father is. While Ron Paul is more of a pure libertarian, Rand Paul is more of a traditional conservative with a dominant libertarian streak in the Barry Goldwater tradition. Senator Paul candidly admits that he is likely to wage a 2016 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Inheriting the legions of volunteers attracted by his father as well as the Ron Paul for President contributor list, which raised close to $40M for the Texas congressman, Rand Paul will be a strong and viable candidate for president. "Rand Paul has to be taken seriously as a potential force," said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Michael Moynihan, writing for The Daily Beast, correctly identifies the successful positioning of the new Rand Paul movement:
When Rand Paul addresses those issues that divide libertarians and traditional conservatives-National security, the drug war, immigration, gay rights-he does so gingerly, framing them for the CPAC audience. Guantanamo and the drone program, and civil liberties in general, are prefaced with an attack on the Obama administration (cheers!) and an invocation of the "brave young men and women" fighting overseas (louder cheers!). When he attacks the foreign-aid budget, he leaves Israel, the biggest recipient of American largesse, alone and riles the crowd with a reference to Egypt and those who "chant death to America" (rapturous cheers!), Watching Paul work with the crowd, a young woman-her demure dress adorned with "Stand With Rand" stickers-pronounced that the senator clearly "loves this country so much." Her companion enthused that Paul was "a rock star."
This re-energizing of the liberty wing of the Republican Party is potentially bad news for the fledging Libertarian Party, which nominated former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for president in 2012. Johnson's fall campaign was badly damaged when Congressman Ron Paul remained in the Republican contest long after the point at which it became clear that the Congressman could not be nominated and Mitt Romney had sufficient delegate votes to win the prize. This delayed both money and manpower migrating to Johnson until late in the contest. I would expect the exodus of libertarian-minded republicans to the GOP to be halted as philosophical libertarians realize that they could take control of one of the country's two-major parties. This in turn could retard the LP's ability to attract a strong and credible candidate for 2016. The rise of Rand Paul is good news for the libertarian movement and America, a challenging development for the Republican establishment and potentially a problem for the Libertarian Party.