Rand Paul’s Political Strategy

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Here’s what Senator Rand Paul said in the video posted below:

I’ve been talking to a lot of the national leaders in the Republican party… and there are certain parts of the country we’ve given up on, the whole West coast and New England, so what I keep telling them is maybe we need some libertarian-type Republicans who might be popular in those areas. Maybe a less aggressive, more socially tolerant but still fiscally conservative policy that may be more libertarian might do better in California, might do better in Oregon, Washington, ne. And I think if we had that it might be a great strategy. Our problem in the presidential election is we’ve given up 150 electoral votes before we get started.

A few thoughts on the senator’s remarks:

1. I wouldn’t have thought that Rand Paul was one of the those libertarians who saw his philosophy as a combination of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, since he himself opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Perhaps he’s saying that the Republicans need candidates who are more libertarian-type than he is?

2. Plenty of “socially tolerant” Republicans have tried running in liberal areas of the country. Some of them have even succeeded, or succeeded for a time — but usually when they have, they haven’t been especially fiscally conservative. Think of Lincoln Chafee or Olympia Snowe.

3. In the last election, New Hampshire elected a senator and Maine a governor who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. Rhode Island had a pro-life governor as recently as 2011. So Paul’s picture is overdrawn.

4. The Democrats do have a more solid electoral base than the Republicans. Not all of that is a result of social issues. It’s hard to believe it’s Republican social conservatism that has shut the party out in presidential years in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (all of which have or have recently had socially conservative governors). Some states really do seem to be off limits to a socially conservative presidential candidate — California for example. But look at the states a social liberal couldn’t win, and there seems to be a rough balance.

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