Are you ready for Bush/Paul 2016?

A corollary to yesterday’s post spitballing about what Paul might do if Jeb (or someone else) squashes him in the early primaries. Whatever you think of Rand’s chances at the nomination, says Ramesh Ponnuru, he’s a strong contender for VP. Do the math:

Let’s say the Kentucky legislator makes a strong run — winning some states and coming close in others — but doesn’t win the nomination, a scenario that seems more likely than not. He has something going for him in the veepstakes that other Republican also-rans would not: a constituency that might well defect in large numbers from the party in November.

Assuming Paul loses, the Libertarian Party will have an easier task than usual: It will be able to concentrate its organizing among the people who voted for Paul in the primaries. That could easily amount to enough voters to deny Republicans a victory in the general election. (In other words, the libertarian candidate in this situation would be Ralph Nader in reverse.)

The winning Republican nominee would need Paul to campaign actively for him to prevent this scenario. But why wouldn’t Paul just go home to Kentucky to campaign for his own re-election? His Senate seat will be up in 2016.

Actually, unless Kentucky law changes or Paul wins a court battle declaring it unconstitutional, he’d be barred by statute from running for the Senate once he commits to running for president. That gives him even less incentive to make nice with the GOP nominee and campaign hard on his behalf, which makes the VP scenario even more likely. The eventual nominee, assuming it isn’t Rand himself, has to offer him the veep slot to keep libertarians and pro-Rand tea partiers in the fold. Doesn’t he?

Probably, yeah — although it may be that we end up with a nominee who’s so hostile to Paul and his philosophy that he’d refuse to add him to the ticket on principle, whatever that might mean for November. Christie might fit that bill, Ted Cruz obviously wouldn’t. Bush is an interesting case: He’d rather stay far away from Paulism, I’d guess, but Paul’s “different kind of Republican” brand would be attractive to a guy who’ll be hammered as a dynasty case and retread. If you want to signal to voters that you’re breaking from the GOP’s recent (Bush-heavy) past, Rand Paul’s the man you want to run with. It’d certainly help Bush get a grudging second look from grassroots righties. I think Rand would accept the offer too, despite the howls from hardcore ideologues in his base that he’d sold out and was being exploited by the enemy. Between endorsing Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Senate primary and taking a more hawkish stand on Russia lately, he’s showed that he’s willing to compromise with the establishment in the name of improving his odds nationally. Serving as VP would give him the ultimate establishment cred and put him in line for the nomination down the road. He’s young by presidential standards. He can wait.

Here’s the X factor: Will establishment hawks and the GOP’s donor class tolerate having Paul on the ticket? If he wins an early primary or two, they’re going to kitchen-sink him with harsh attacks — he hates Israel, he fraternizes with racists, he’d destroy respect for American power in the world even more thoroughly than Obama has, and certainly he wouldn’t stand a chance against Hillary in the general. It’s … not easy to switch in a matter of months from that position to “hey, let’s put him one heartbeat away.” In particular, it’d be odd to go from claiming that Paul is electoral poison as nominee to claiming that it’d be electoral poison not to nominate him for VP for the reason Ponnuru gives (although that argument can, and probably will, be made). Just for example, could someone like McCain endorse a Bush/Paul or Rubio/Paul ticket? Could Christie? Could Sheldon Adelson, on whom the GOP is counting to donate tens of millions of dollars in the general election? Most Republicans would be good soldiers but you only need a small yet influential group of Paul critics to threaten to walk in order to get the nominee to think twice about Rand.

Exit question: Is there some middle-ground solution here, like a cabinet appointment for Paul, that would avoid the VP dilemma? Er, which cabinet position would he be an obvious candidate for?