Rand Paul on Thad Cochran's Democrat-driven win: "I'm for more people voting"

There must be a long German word for when someone admits he holds a position you knew he held but you’re shocked at the admission anyway.

I’m calling it Paulkandorshpiel.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a potential 2016 presidential contender, declined to support tea party critics of Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran’s efforts to mobilize non-GOP voters to win the Republican nomination.

“I’m for more people voting, not less people voting,” Paul told reporters Wednesday…

Cochran’s vote total grew by almost 40,000 votes from the initial June 3 primary to Tuesday’s runoff against state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R). Much of that growth has been credited to courting independent and Democratic voters on the state’s Gulf Coast, where shipyard work has been supported by Cochran for decades, and also an aggressive effort to turn out black voters.

In Mississippi all voters can cast ballots in one party’s primary. Paul noted that one of his sons spent time at summer camp working on a proposal that would open up Kentucky’s closed primary system to independent voters.

So … yes, turns out that a guy who’s banking on traditionally non-Republican voters to carry him to the nomination — libertarians, minorities, doves — does think that opening up primaries is a good idea. Go figure. Cochran’s win must be especially encouraging to him since no one’s spent more time on outreach to black voters lately within the GOP as Rand has, replete with a Senate bill to restore voting rights to disenfranchised felons that’s, er, probably unconstitutional. (Don’t tell Ron!) That sort of outreach paid off big for the incumbent in Mississippi last night. Maybe 10 points big:

We can hold the African-American percentage of the population variables constant in both the Cochran and McDaniel regressions, while adjusting the non-African American variables. This process mirrors on a county level what would happen if white or traditionally Republican turnout went up but black or traditionally Democratic turnout didn’t change from the first to the second round. In my scenario, I kept the African-American turnout constant from the first round of voting, but let the white vote increase as it actually did.

The result: Cochran loses a lot of votes. Instead of Cochran winning the runoff by 2 points, or about 6,000 votes, he loses by a little less than 8 points, or about 25,000 votes. He drops about 40,000 votes from his 190,000 vote total, while McDaniel loses only about 15,000 from his 185,000 vote total.

Democratic crossovers have affected presidential primaries too. McCain, for instance, benefited in Michigan in 2000. So far, so good. It’s just that, er, Rand’s ostensible base in 2016 is right-wingers, and right-wingers are the group that’s most honked off at having just watched an establishment dinosaur surf Democratic votes to reelection in a Republican primary. That’s what’s shocking — that Paul, after endorsing McConnell, would now turn around and bless Cochran’s lefty-driven win while the tea partiers he’s counting on to spur him to the nomination seethe. Why not say something like “Expanding the GOP’s big tent is important but shrinking government and restoring liberty is more important, and I think McDaniel would have done a better job of that”?

But maybe I’m wrong about who Rand’s 2016 base is. I think when he first started making noise about running for president he planned to build a coalition of conservatives and libertarians and to try his luck against the establishment that way. Since Cruz’s star began ascending, though, Paul may be rethinking that; he’s not going to out-tea-party Cruz, so maybe he’s better off trying to build a more moderate coalition — libertarians, minorities, doves, as noted earlier — while counting on his fiscal conservatism and his occasional nods at hawkishness to make him a plausible option for conservatives who don’t like Cruz for whatever reason. That would explain his comments here, and it’d also explain why he’s been swinging at Dick Cheney lately rather than trying to pander to GOP hawks the way he did when Russia made a move on Ukraine. His path to the nomination no longer runs through being the most right-wing guy in the race. Or, at least, it doesn’t until Cruz declares that he’s not running after all.