Sen. Paul is Tea Party’s best hope for political power

The Republican Party, however, certainly favors centralized government when those powers coincide with the GOP’s political interests. After all, much of the transfer of powers away from the states to Washington, D.C., and from Congress to the White House was achieved with GOP support. And, of course, many social conservatives promote centralized government when that intervention supports their norms and values.

Though no one is yet seriously discussing a divorce or even a separation, the current relationship between the GOP and the Tea Party is simply unsustainable. Where the Tea Party will end up remains to be seen.

Undoubtedly, the GOP wants the Tea Party to abandon its anti-establishment “radicalism.” To further this objective, the GOP leadership is likely to reward or punish Tea Party members accordingly, as it apparently did when the Republican Steering Committee voted to remove Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) from the House Budget Committee. And as long as the Tea Party lacks real political structure, many of its members will depend on the GOP apparatus for fundraising and additional support.

The Tea Party is adrift, confused by its flirtation with the establishment and social conservatism. In its early stages, the movement embraced conservative constitutionalism and libertarianism and remained neutral on social issues. If the Tea Party were to choose a separate path or greater autonomy, it would have to go further, embracing freedom in all areas, both social and economic. Additionally, the Tea Party would have to believe that it could win and would win elections, even against Republicans if warranted.

Such clarity of mission would require a leader with a concise vision and the ability to help the Tea Party’s political transition. It would require an articulate leader who could explain to all voters why the Tea Party better represents their values. And it would require a consistent, effective leader — someone who is engaged daily in the fight for the Tea Party’s principles and who enjoys access to a grassroots network, independent of the GOP.

The only person who could reasonably fill that role is Sen. Rand Paul. The future of the Tea Party — and possibly that of the GOP — rests on his shoulders, regardless of whether he is ready for that responsibility.

Despite being Kentucky’s junior senator, Paul is a kingmaker and has vast potential to fundraise, with or without help from the Republican National Committee. Paul is rumored to be contemplating a run for president in 2016. The GOP establishment is counting on him to be a “team player” and run as a Republican, giving the establishment Republicans confidence that they can channel him in ways they find rewarding.

We can be almost certain that if Paul were to run as a third-party candidate, the Democratic nominee would win the White House. And the senator surely understands this. That’s why it’s likely that Paul will continue to work within the GOP, bolstering his credentials as a team player while remaining dedicated to changing the Republican Party from the inside.