Rand Paul’s gambit

With Rand Paul set to announce his bid for the presidency, the Washington Post reports that the Kentucky Senator is straying from his libertarian roots in an attempt to make himself acceptable to defense-oriented and religious conservatives. The Post cites his support for a proposed $190 billion increase in defense spending over the next two years; his signature of Tom Cotton’s letter regarding a nuclear deal with Iran; and his statement to Christian pastors that “the First Amendment says keep government out of religion, it doesn’t say keep religion out of government.”

Post reporters Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa make the obvious point:

It is a tricky and delicate balancing act that the senator from Kentucky is trying to pull off: finding a way to make himself more acceptable to conservatives without dampening the enthusiasm of the boisterous, youthful and well-organized grass-roots network that his father, former congressman Ron Paul, ignited in presidential bids in 2008 and 2012.

Paul might well be able to make himself “more acceptable” to conservatives without substantially dampening enthusiasm among committed libertarians. The problem is that making himself more acceptable is unlikely to prove sufficient for purposes of sustaining a strong bid for the GOP nomination.

Don Rasmussen of the Daily Caller imagines a scenario in which Paul, with the strong support of libertarians, does well in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. He would then face the stern test of South Carolina’s “first in the South” primary.

As Ramussen points out, this primary, like many others in the South but more so, is dominated by (1) voters with a strong affinity for the military and (2) deeply religious Christian voters. No wonder Paul wants to make himself acceptable to these groupings.

But acceptable or not, Paul won’t be their first choice (or even their second or third). Thus, Paul’s candidacy will likely fail once the Southern primary season gets underway.

Rasmussen cites the early polling in the South:

[Paul] is pulling just 6 percent in South Carolina behind a slew of candidates real and imagined. In Florida, the only other southern state with substantial early polling, he does even worse, sitting at a scary low 4.3 percent according to the Real Clear Politics average. Things don’t get better when you look at the sparse polls from his native state of Texas (7th at 4 percent), North Carolina (5th at 8 percent) and Virginia (6th at 6 percent). While it remains relatively early, these numbers belie the fact that he already enjoys national name recognition over 75 percent, among the highest in the GOP field.

By running as a less libertarian, more traditional conservative candidate, Paul may be able to improve on these numbers. But it seems unlikely that he can elevate himself to the first-tier in these states.

Failure to do will likely doom his candidacy.