Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 17, 2013

Gaining strength

Rand Paul could follow dad as a leader of the tea party

The Independent

ASHLAND — With U.S. Rep. Ron Paul exiting the political stage, his followers in the tea party are seeking a new leader for the fiscally conservative Libertarian movement, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is the favorite to follow in his father’s footsteps. Many expect Rand Paul to run for president in 2016, even though that is the same year his current Senate term expires. However, Ron Paul ran for re-election to his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives at the same time he ran for president, and his son could do the same.

Ron Paul did not seek another term in the House in 2012, and his term expired at the end of the year.

Ron Paul twice ran for the GOP presidential nomination. While he never came close to getting the party’s nomination, his supporters have quietly taken over key-state GOP organizations, ensuring future fights with the GOP establishment and laying the groundwork for a future presidential candidate.

Their new relevance, especially in the early caucus states of Iowa and Nevada, could clear the way for such a candidate as Rand Paul. It’s the next step in the group’s ongoing development into serious party activists bent on reshaping a party they say has drifted from its conservative roots.

Iowa’s state Republican governing body this month voted to re-elect as chairman and vice chairman two of Paul’s top 2012 Iowa caucus campaign aides. Last year, Nevada Republicans similarly elected top Paul supporters to its two spots on the Republican National Committee. Paul backers also have made inroads into Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota and Missouri, in part vestiges of his 2012 presidential campaign.

In 2010, Rand Paul, a Bowling Green ophthalmologist who had never sought public office, easily defeated then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the choice of the state Republican Party’s establishment, to win the party’s nomination in May and went on the defeat Attorney General Jack Conway in the November election to replace the retiring Jim Bunning.

In 2012, former Lewis County Judge-Executive Thomas Massie defeated several better-known Republicans to win the party’s nomination for the 4th District U.S. House seat being vacated by Geoff Davis. Massie became just one of several tea party Republicans to be elected to Congress in November, with the others winning House seats in Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Texas.

It’s not clear how receptive the wider party will be to party members who agree with the GOP’s core fiscal tenets, but break sharply on national security and foreign policy.

On social policy, Ron Paul lines up with the GOP’s mainstream, opposing abortion rights and gun control. On fiscal policy, he shares the view of many in his party that the current tax code, and the Internal Revenue Service, should end. But he is out of sync with the GOP broadly in supporting a return to the gold standard and ending the Federal Reserve system.

He is most sharply at odds with his party on military and international policy. He opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign aid to Israel and the option of U.S. military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, a position that cost him in the week leading up to last year’s Iowa caucuses.

Paul’s network could give son Rand a ready-made platform on which to run, although former aides note it’s not a guarantee he, or any Ron Paul protege, would automatically inherit his supporters. There is no question Rand Paul has presidential ambitions. Soon after being elected to the Senate, he hinted he may run for president in 2012, but only if his father did not.

The future of the tea party movement still is unknown. Some believe it already has peaked and will rapidly fade into a small faction on the GOP’s fringes. While U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers were quick to shift to the right with the election of Rand Paul, many still question how committed they are to the conservative fiscal policies advocated by tea party backers. After all, while they both now express disdain for “earmarks,” both McConnell and Rogers used earmarks for years to bring projects to Kentucky. Others believe if the tea party becomes a major force in the GOP, it may drive moderate Republicans to the Democratic Party.

For now, the tea party could well determine the political futures of Rand Paul and Thomas Massie. If the movement has staying power, Rand Paul could become a major force instead of just a senator whose proposals are largely ignored by his fellow senators.