The market will decide.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Rand Paul Isn't Leader of the Pack

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

The Fix’s new rankings for Republican presidential candidates are out. Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake pick Senator Rand Paul as the most likely nominee.

I’ve excluded Paul (and Ted Cruz, ranked No. 8 by Cillizza and Blake) from my list of plausible nominees. Do I need to revisit the question? Sorry, still not buying it.

Here’s the case The Fix makes:

No one rolls their eyes anymore. Paul has a unique activist and fundraising base thanks to his dad's two runs for president, and has shown considerable savvy in his outreach efforts to the establishment end of the party over the past few years … Paul is the candidate furthest along in the planning process for president and the one with the most current strength in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

I don’t see much there. Of the four attributes listed, three -- unique base, early planning, strength in early states -- are exactly what was said about Ron Paul in 2012. Given that Ron Paul never had a realistic chance against a very weak field, I’m not convinced that we should think much of Rand Paul’s chances.

That leaves the question of whether the rest of the party is more interested in Rand Paul 2016 than it was in Ron Paul 2012. Not whether Paul has been “savvy” in selling himself, but whether anyone is buying.

I remain highly skeptical and will have to see some explicit support from important party actors outside of the Paul orbit (and outside of Kentucky, where he and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell have developed a working relationship). We know that Paul will have some important opponents within the party, especially on national security. He’s going to need some serious supporters to overcome that. And given the large, strong group of contenders, I just can’t imagine why any (non-libertarian) group of party actors would take on that battle.

I understand the math: It's a large field and Paul is more or less guaranteed to get 20 percent of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire. All he needs then is to exceed his father’s performance by a few thousand voters and he could easily capture those early states against a splintered group of Republicans. That's an illusion. There probably won’t be a dozen candidates in Iowa; Republicans have efficiently winnowed their field pre-Iowa for several cycles. But it doesn’t matter; even if Paul wins with 25 percent of the vote in Iowa, he’s not going to win the nomination unless he can eventually reach more than 50 percent. And as long as a substantial clot of party actors opposes his candidacy and most of the rest are indifferent at best, he’s not going to get the favorable publicity he needs to do that.

Yes, lots of candidates at this stage of the process haven’t demonstrated their ability to win over half of the primary vote. Mitt Romney hadn't last time. But the opposition to Paul, and the policy differences between Paul and most of the party, are far deeper than was the case with Romney in 2012.  

Show me evidence Paul is attracting support from mainstream conservatives, and I’ll start believing he’s a viable nominee. Until then, he's an implausible longshot. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net