Politico has published a substantive and insightful profile of Senator Rand Paul, one that frequently revisits the question of to what extent the senator is his father’s son. The question is an important one: Whatever his virtues, Ron Paul had extreme difficulty building a functioning political coalition, to say the least. He had trouble making his case even to people who are philosophically inclined to many or most of his positions.
Rand Paul, I think it is fair to say, already has had more of an effect on the style and substance of the Republican party at large than his father did in his long career in politics. This is a testament to the fact that style matters, and specifics matter.
A few examples: As near as I can tell, Senator Paul’s views on monetary policy are not substantively different from his father’s views on the subject, but he is not given toward offering conspiracy-theory-tinged disquisitions on the Federal Reserve. I do not think that his views on foreign policy are radically different from his father’s views, but his tone certainly is. Ron Paul is a veteran and a patriot, but his rhetoric shares a good deal in style and occasionally in substance with the reflexively anti-American Left. A Ron Paul party is something that does not appeal to a great many people, even those sympathetic to libertarian views such as myself. Such a party would be steeped in bitterness, paranoid, and backward-looking. Among the young people to whom Ron Paul appeals, the most energetic and consistent bloc of support is those who came into his circle through the anti-Bush anti-war movement, which, whatever its virtues, does not in the main consist of people who are otherwise positively inclined to the Republican party.
A Rand Paul party is a different thing. His appeal is more populist than esoteric, and his style, while sometimes bracing, is immeasurably more positive. Unlike his father, Rand Paul has considerable appeal for those of us who still believe that the United States is, for all our faults, a force for good in the world, and potentially a force for much more good.
Without considering the practical questions relating to Senator Paul’s presidential ambitions, his recent prominence, along with that of figures such as Justin Amash, together with such fruitful developments as the Right on Crime movement and Rick Perry’s advocacy of marijuana-law reform, give the GOP a critical opportunity to move beyond being the party of federal income tax cuts and the Bush foreign-policy legacy. Activists’ incessant focus on the White House is myopic, especially in 2014: Republicans should keep in mind that there are many ways to make use of this new energy, regardless of who ends up carrying the presidential banner in 2016.