Listen to Rand Paul talk and you will hear the unmistakable echoes of his father. His voice, intonation, and gestures indicate that this is the son of Rep. Ron Paul. But Tuesday night, the son pulled off a political feat that the father could never quite manage. He captured the Republican nomination for statewide office, by an overwhelming margin. In 1984, Ron Paul tried for an open Senate seat but didn't get through the primary. He lost to that Texas titan of charisma Phil Gramm and didn't reenter Congress again until 1997.
Rand Paul will now have now have to appeal to a broader swath of voters than those who vote in Republican primaries. He'll have a real fight ahead of him but he has a good shot of winning his Kentucky Senate seat in November. If he wins in November, will he follow in his father's footsteps and run for president? For that matter, how will this affect Ron Paul's decision about whether or not to run for president in 2012? I put those question to a source close to the both the Rand Paul campaign and Ron Paul. The source said this likely means Ron Paul won't run in 2012 and Rand Paul will run in 2016. The prediction makes sense, with the huge caveat that we're dealing with the ever sifting sands of politics.
Certainly, Rand Paul has benefited greatly from loosely organized Tea Party support, but that's not the whole picture. Without that Tea Party enthusiasm (whose top three issues, he explained, are "the debt, the debt, and the debt"), it would be impossible to imagine his victory Tuesday. His vision of a smaller, constitutionally limited government that is less adventurous on the world stage is much easier to sell now that people are holding regular rallies against big government. The Kentucky hopeful has also benefited from institutional support and from what D.C. Examiner columnist Gene Healy calls Ron Paul's "cult of no personality."
The institutional support: Ron Paul used some of the funds from his 2008 presidential election as seed money for two organizations to help advance his ideas in politics and academia , Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty. These organizations worked to hand him a victory in this year's CPAC presidential straw poll and came only vote one short of winning a similar contest at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Campaign for Liberty effectively endorsed Rand Paul, promoted him, and unofficially lent support for the primary ground game.
The Paulistas: Remember the "money bombs" of the 2008 Republican primaries? These spontaneous fundraisers by Ron Paul enthusiasts made his official organizations possible and many Ron Paul related websites and groups continue to be purely voluntary efforts. The website RonPaul.com, for instance is maintained by "independent grassroots supporters of Ron Paul" and carries a disclaimer that the congressman does not endorse the website. Though there was much debate about Rand Paul's anti-war bona fides among Paulistas, many of them chipped in time and money that made his success possible.
With an infrastructure and a cult following, why wouldn't Ron Paul run for office in 2012, I asked my source, or encourage his son to run for it instead? The second question was mostly rhetorical. Rand Paul has never held elective office. It would be hard to take him seriously and he'd have to start running for president as soon as he won the Senate seat and if he didn't get the GOP nomination for president - and he wouldn't - he'd end up an unpopular, one term senator.