I know, I know, “He’s not anti-war, he’s anti-intervention.” Although he’s not really anti-intervention either, at least not anymore. His speech today in South Carolina (which starts at 13:15 below) sounds a lot like the one he gave a few days ago in announcing his candidacy, but the backdrop, obviously, is … different. Message: This ain’t your daddy’s Paul campaign, and by “your,” of course, I mean Rand’s. Maybe the biggest X factor of the GOP primaries is whether Rand can keep true blue Ron Paul rEVOLutionaries in the same tent as hawkish mainstream conservatives, to whom he’s obviously appealing here. If he can, he’s probably the only candidate out there with a legit chance to win Iowa and New Hampshire, which would turn the nomination battle into a “Rand versus Anyone But Rand” contest. If he can’t, he’s a curio, a guy whose continued campaign would ironically help the GOP establishment much more than it would help the right by drawing votes away from more formidable candidates like Scott Walker or Ted Cruz.
So yeah, nationally, using the Yorktown as scenery is a signal to traditional conservatives that he’s much less uncomfortable with military power than his old man is. Locally, it’s a signal to South Carolinians that Rand the alleged peacenik wouldn’t cut off military spending for a state that depends greatly on it. Winning South Carolina will be a heavy lift for Paul, not just because the field is so competitive and the state so coveted as an early bellwether but because, following Iowa and New Hampshire, voters may be thinking especially hard about electability and narrowing the field. (Yeah, yeah, I know Newt won there in 2012, but the circumstances were totally different.) Whoever wins SC this time will be a serious threat for the nomination, especially if he also won IA and/or NH. If there’s a feeling among GOP voters that Paul’s unelectable, South Carolina may be where it first shows up. As such, it’s probably where Paul will strain the hardest to show that he’s a mainstream Republican. (In Iowa he’ll try to build on dad’s strong showing in 2012 by emphasizing his libertarian and “values” cred. In New Hampshire he’ll emphasize his mavericky moderate streak by playing up his initiatives on criminal justice reform and minority outreach.) Today’s speech makes lots of sense as part of that strategy. Note the line also about naming radical Islam as America’s enemy. That’s not strictly inconsistent with Ron Paul’s “blowback” approach to foreign policy, but in terms of its emphasis on jihadis as the enemy rather than interventionism, it’s night and day.
Speaking of 2016 and heavy lifts, here’s something fun from the Times about one of Rand’s chief rivals:
In 2012, a year after he joined the Senate, [Marco] Rubio drafted a birthday tribute to [Jeb] Bush, the former governor of Florida, a tradition organized by one of his former aides…
“When I first decided I would run for Senate, other than my wife, ‘The Gov’ was one of the only one who actually thought I could win,” Mr. Rubio wrote. “He has been a huge influence on me.”
Mr. Rubio was not finished:
“Often in the Senate when faced with a tough choice, I ask myself: WWJD. What would Jeb do!”
So there you go. Your choice, if you’re an establishmentarian and have an issue with Scott Walker for whatever reason, is between Jeb and a guy who’d do whatever Jeb would do anyway. Although maybe that’s not such a bad brand for Rubio. He’s a more appealing retail politician than Bush is without any of the Bush baggage. If you’re a Republican billionaire, why not support the handsome, charismatic young Latino candidate who’s promising to give you Jeb-like policies rather than Jeb himself?
Exit question: Er, is Ron Paul going to endorse Rand? Honestly, I’d guess the odds are about 50/50.