A new CBS/New York Times poll has bad news for the man who can only now be called a former frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ).
With 41 percent of Republicans saying they don’t want the governor to run and only 31 percent saying they do, he’s the only leading GOP candidate who has more opposition to his candidacy than support. So who is the frontrunner now?
National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar argues that it is Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a man who only entered politics for the first time four years ago. In his first term in the Senate, the son of former congressman and perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul has risen to national prominence with somewhat unconventional views for a Republican, which have conveniently aligned with the party’s intractable anti-Obama agenda.
The new poll shows that the support for Paul’s candidacy among members of his party is at 39 percent, 2 points lower than former Florida governor Jeb Bush. However, 27 percent oppose Bush running compared to 21 percent opposed to Paul, giving the Tea Party hero a decent claim to the frontrunner spot.
“He’s a fundamentally better messenger than Barry Goldwater—[Goldwater’s 1964 campaign slogan] ‘In your heart you know he’s right’ is not very compelling,” Paul’s former campaign manager Jesse Benton told Kraushaar. “Rand is a wonderful communicator, and I think a message of individual liberty can build wide support.”
But being a better messenger for the poster child for Republican electoral disasters isn’t a very compelling message.
Here are five things Republicans will have to consider before they anoint Rand Paul their new standard bearer.
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His Plans For Social Security And Medicare Could Cost Him The Senior Vote
Part of Paul’s appeal is that he’s willing to take strong stands. Without anyone asking him to, he produced his own budget and his own Medicare plan. And both are far to the right of Paul Ryan’s plan, which is already costing the party with America’s most reliable voters — seniors.
The junior senator from Kentucky, if he had his druthers, would immediately privatize Medicare and Social Security. And he would raise the retirement age of both. These positions may endear him to the far right, which would rather gut both programs than ever raise taxes, but they’ll likely enrage the white Baby Boomers whom Republicans would need in order to have any chance to win the White House.
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He’s As Far Right On Reproductive Rights As Any Republican
Paul hasn’t just opposed the Violence Against Women Act and voted in favor of bosses being able to decide if their employees get birth control coverage, he’s also against abortion even in cases of rape and incest. This opinion is shared by 10 to 20 percent of the country, who are nearly all likely GOP primary voters. But it puts him in the position of having to tell women that he thinks they should be forced to carry their rapists’ babies.
AFP Photo/Tim Sloan
The Party’s Defense Hawks Will Try To Destroy Him
Mitt Romney’s biggest fan in the media, The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, is waging a war with Paul, whom she feels is an isolationist and anti-Israel.
In a post on Wednesday, which was tweeted by Liz Cheney, the blogger made the case she will be making for the next two years: He’s not really even a Republican:
If you didn’t think Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) comments refusing to rule out containment on Iran were sufficient to disqualify him for serious consideration as president, this should do it: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time and I don’t think that is a good idea.”
It is not the only time Paul has come running to the defense of a despot. Paul defended Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the grounds that he is good for Christians.
Democrats and the public generally agree with Paul’s anti-war stand. But for a party that has surrendered the advantage on national security it has held since after the Vietnam War, nominating a “dove” will be hard for many of the party’s biggest donors — like avidly anti-Iran Sheldon Adelson — to accept.
His Minority Outreach Has Big Limits
Paul’s efforts to reform sentencing for non-violent drug crimes and restore voting rights for convicts who have served their time are admirable examples of genuine minority outreach. However, he embraces voter ID laws, which poll well among nearly all groups except those he’s trying to reach out to.
These laws are unnecessary — the Bush administration found no examples of widespread voter fraud — and have been shown to target minority voters.
His Followers Will Follow Him Anywhere — Even Out Of The GOP
As the first presidential candidate to inherit a functional campaign machine from his father, Rand Paul isn’t just a candidate. He’s a movement.
Republicans complained during the elder Paul’s campaign that his followers weren’t really Republicans. The fear was always that the former Libertarian would bolt and run as a third-party candidate. With his son’s career in mind, Congressman Paul stayed with the party, even though he never “fully endorsed” Mitt Romney.
At 51 years old, Senator Paul could be running for president for the next two decades. But if he isn’t able to sway his party to his views, he and his followers may get restless.
Of course, the younger Paul hasn’t just inherited his father’s assets. If his opponents want to play the guilt-by-association game the senator seems to be playing with Hillary Clinton, they can bring up his neo-Nazi connections and scores of racist newsletters.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr