A person’s political identity is most malleable before they ever cast their first vote, but every time a person selects the same party it becomes harder to pull them away from that party they increasingly see as their own. Republicans must address the >20 point advantage Democrats hold on the rising generation, and the GOP is grappling with ways to attract millennials without de-energizing the base. Millenials are not the “yell at the TV” audience the GOP knows how to whip into a geriatric froth between episodes of the America’s Got Talent and The Bachelor. That doesn’t mean Rand Paul wouldn’t revolutionize (r-love-utionize?) the GOP if he won the nomination; he could. A campaign between an old school foreign policy Democrat like Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul would invert parts of the map and pin Hamiltonian versus Jeffersonian philosophies against one another in a Presidential election for the first time since Goldwater and LBJ. Paul must capitalize on the libertarian energy now boiling below the surface of the GOP without sounding like your poorly read roommate in college that won’t shut up after reading an Orwell novel for the first time.
The dynamics of his rallies will be fascinating, especially if he starts winning primaries and has to exclude his “legalize pot” supporters to appeal to those that donate more than sublime insight into life. (No, the country isn’t just like your burrito.) Rand will get by without specifics for a while, like agreeing that we should start a dialogue with Cuba but disagreeing with how the President has handled it. Vague neutralities liberally salted with anti-federalism will be enough until he wins Iowa or New Hampshire, at which point the press will demand specifics. Expect a feeling of buyer’s remorse from the GOP electorate as previous statements and writings from Rand’s youth come under scrutiny for the first time. The whimsical atheism of a boy in his 20’s inspired by Ayn Rand coupled with an earnest Hetty Green-like indifference to human suffering will rattle his support. Like Obama with Reverend Wright in 2008, Rand will have growing pains as his opponents rush to define him.
Every primary season a lot is said about a possible brokered convention and floor fights for delegates. They’re usually nothing more than the early morning dreams of political journalists, but potentially not in this case. The love / hate relationship that the establishment GOP has with libertarians in general and with the Paul family specifically will boil over if he starts to pull away from the field. At a conference held by the Koch brothers for their donor network, an informal straw poll conducted by Frank Luntz showed Rand Paul in dead last. The Koch brothers also announced that they plan to raise 889 million dollars for the 2016 primaries and general election, which would be more than any political organization, candidate, or party committee has ever raised for a single election. Rand Paul will somehow have to bridge the gap between the two wings of his party. Otherwise, he will face a campaign of damning editorials in the Wall Street Journal, mindless character assassination by Foxnews, and negative advertisements saturating both the air and ethernet waves. He would have to endure the Shock and Awe the GOP knows well and does best, but this time it will be directed toward one of their own. Any threat by libertarians to displace the establishment at the top of the party structure will be met with nothing short of nuclear war.