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We Will Have (a) Paul To Kick Around

Ron Paul’s compliance today could lead to Rand Paul’s dominance later

Marc Tracy
February 22, 2012
Sen. Rand Paul (L) and Rep. Ron Paul (R) last year.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Rand Paul (L) and Rep. Ron Paul (R) last year.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As Mitt Romney stumbles his way to the finish line—Rick Santorum continues to perform favorably in polls for the upcoming Michigan primary, prompting talk of an alterna-candidate or a brokered convention—it’s becoming clear that the weird dynamics of the 2012 Republican primary race, which has arguably seen nine frontrunners, can be explained by the fact that the true stars have sat this one out. Exciting potential candidates like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy have considered whether to run against an incumbent president now or for an open seat in four or eight years and decided, probably wisely, to wait it out. This is why the Republican field was so weak: If you were running this year, it was either because it was “your time” (Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Gov. Rick Perry); the last time (Newt Gingrich); the only time, given the weakness of the field (Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum); or, um, miscellaneous (Donald Trump, Herman Cain).

This is also the best context for viewing the candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul. He is not a particularly strong candidate: He has run twice before; he is 76; he does not project the sort of aura we associate with presidents. Kelefa Sanneh’s new New Yorker profile depicts a futile campaign, not a successful one. “He is slowly collecting delegates,” Sanneh writes, shrewdly throwing this hard-money advocate’s principles back in his face, “a particularly unsound form of currency—they are worth something until the last night of the Republican Convention, at which point the market for Republican delegates crashes.”

“There is only one politician whom Paul regularly praises in his speeches—a man he coyly refers to as a ‘senator from Kentucky,’ ” Sanneh reports. The candidate who advocates what Paul advocates but is a better candidate isn’t running this year for the same reason that Christie, Ryan, et al., aren’t. That this candidate is Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul, only makes it starker.

The notion that Paul’s power at the polls and through delegates could land his son a spot as the nominee’s vice-presidential candidate has been floated. A story last week about Romney and Paul’s personal friendship—an article whose sources are all on Paul’s side, by the way—only led to further speculation. But if Rand Paul is smart enough not to run for president this year, he is also smart enough not to run for vice president and instead to spend the next several months (and four or eight years) building his own profile.

Meanwhile, from the father’s perspective, the party has your son as a hostage: Run a third-party campaign or even make too big of a dissenting noise at the convention, and your son will be shunned in a later year; go along, and they will owe you (or your son). “Paul can’t accurately claim that he has nothing to lose by breaking with the party that has been his home for all but one of his years in politics,” Sanneh notes. “Hope for his son’s prospects—and a disinclination to put him in an awkward position—might be enough to keep Paul from ending his political career with another third-party campaign.”

Which is to say, the Paul question—Ron or Rand—does not need to be answered this year, and those who tell you otherwise are probably just trying to scare you.

But the Paul question—Rand—probably will need to be answered at a later date. Paul the Younger generally shares his father’s positions, but he does try to be more mainstream; he did, according to Sanneh, refuse to rule out the use of force to halt Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Will a group like the Republican Jewish Coalition, which pointedly did not invite Ron Paul to its candidates confab last December, be open to Rand Paul in four or eight years? It’s not the most urgent of questions, but it’s one of the more interesting ones.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.