Here at the Young Republican National Convention in Mobile, Alabama, attendees often direct casual conversation toward the 2016 general election. I’m interested to know who they like. “Not Rand Paul” is one answer. “In our session this morning, someone tried to introduce a measure supporting the legalization of marijuana,” Mike Bayham, a Republican State Committeeman tells me. I ask how it went. “Not well. We voted not to consider it.”
I explain that I’m from National Review, and that I support legalizing marijuana — and almost everything else, really. After a little back-and-forth debate about merits of that policy, I ask what Mike thinks that the general attitude would be in the room toward a more permissive drug regime. “You might get a few of the Paulistas who support it. The Ronuluns,” Bayham tells me, smiling slightly. “But not really. The government shouldn’t be suggesting that drugs are okay.” I ask if there are many Ron Paul types here. “No, not really.” If there is a libertarian shift in the party, it doesn’t appear to be on display here.
And what of Rand, as opposed to his father? “I don’t think he’s much different to his father, Bayham says. “He’s aware of his problem and he’s trying to hide it – but it’s difficult for him to do that.” What is that problem? “He’s just very much like his father, really.”
I ask who he favors. “Well, up until about six months ago, it would have been Marco Rubio. But now, I like Scott Walker.” Is this because of Rubio’s immigration activism. “Yes.” Later, I mention Bobby Jindal. “I’m from Louisiana, and I don’t think that Jindal could get elected now in his own house!” Bayham concludes. This is a fairly common assessment.
Scott Walker’s name is mentioned a lot. But something about the way it is invoked bothers me slightly, and I can’t help wondering about the extent to which he is benefiting from being unscathed and — nationally at least — untested. Walker is a successful governor of Wisconsin — a blue state – and an avatar for the reform of union excess. But at some point, he’ll annoy people just as everybody else has. Rubio has upset many with his immigration bill; Jindal has, many claim, been found wanting; Paul Ryan was on a losing ticket in 2012, as was Sarah Palin; Rick Santorum lost a primary, as did Rick Perry; Chris Christie irritated some Republicans when he appeared to be so chummy with the president just days before an election; and Rand Paul is, among this crowd at least, mistrusted for his libertarianism. Scott Walker is certainly an impressive man. But, talking to the attendees, I’m left wondering to what extent he remains a Rorsach test onto whom the rank and file can project their desires without pushback.
Rick Santorum, whose group, “Patriot Voices,” is a sponsor here, does not currently appear to have the support that he would need to win a second time around. The conference opened yesterday with a pre-recorded video featuring Santorum’s usual spiel: “I was a young Republican.” / “This was the main thing that led to my success and my campaign.” / “There’s a war going on.” / “Conservatives wish to conserve” the ideas of a young country and to “hold onto our founding documents.” / The “Declaration is the heart and soul of America.” I know this because I was listening. But nobody else was. When Santorum started speaking, the room started talking and eating. Not particularly encouraging for him.
“Maybe after Obama and his whole persona, the country will be ready for a Scott Walker,” Bayham suggests. This is interesting. America does tend to tire of certain characteristics and elect people with opposite qualities. But, in a television age, does a quieter, more down-to-earth man really come across?