Alyssa notes something that people in Kentucky have been talking about for a while: Rand Paul’s potential Presidential candidacy in 2016. It’s an interesting problem. Rand surely has more potential as a charismatic advocate of the Paul family ideology than his father, and he lacks much of the baggage (although he obviously has some). I think that the Paul faction of the GOP is more committed to Ron Paul the symbol than Ron Paul the candidate, and Rand is uniquely well-suited to occupying that role. I suspect, thus, that Rand’s ceiling is higher than Ron’s, although I don’t know how much higher.
It may be that Rand likes being a Senator, and will be happy to run for re-election in 2016. He’s not a shoo-in by any means; each of the last three Senatorial elections in Kentucky has been hard-fought, and Rand won during a Republican wave that was especially pronounced in Kentucky. I suspect that the Democrats will target him in ’16, and so he might want to concentrate his efforts on re-election rather than on a Presidential run. The latter is unlikely to help the former all that much; libertarianism doesn’t tend to be a real big winner in Kentucky, and so drawing contrasts between himself and the rest of the GOP field would probably be counter-productive.
Another interesting question will be how the outcome of this year’s election affects Rand’s prospects. If Mitt occupies the White House that would make for a very interesting contested primary, between an incumbent President and a sitting Senator. I’m sure that no matter how popular Mitt is or isn’t in 2016, Paul’s supporters will find sufficient reason to work themselves into a berserker rage at Romney’s heresy. But of course Rand will fail to defeat Mitt, and the national GOP will suddenly display a tremendous lack of interest in Rand’s Senate re-election prospects, making a dicey campaign even more problematic. To my thinking, he pretty much has to choose between being Senator from Kentucky and failing to unseat an incumbent GOP President; I don’t have a good sense of how he’d behave in that situation.
Best case scenario for Rand is that Obama beats Mitt, letting the GOP get even more enraged over the next four years. A Mitt defeat will be blamed on the “moderate,” “establishment,” elements of the GOP, likely increasing the appeal of a radical outsider. It will depend on the other candidates, but I wouldn’t say he’s guaranteed to lose the nomination in the same sense as his father. I think that he’d be an extremely weak general election candidate, but of course the result of the election will turn mainly on factors that will develop closer to 2016.
I do think that Rand’s position within the GOP makes it less likely that Ron will run as an independent this year. If Ron is perceived as Mitt’s spoiler, leading to an Obama victory, then the Paul name will be mud in the GOP, and Rand’s ceiling will consequently be reduced. Then again, I could imagine things playing out differently, and at the least a Ron run would make a Mitt victory (Rand’s worst case scenario) less likely.