We saw more hints of the coming clash between Rand Paul and Ted Cruz this weekend, when (as predicted) Sen. Cruz criticized Paul’s foreign policy, painting it as dovish. (On Monday, Paul obliquely fired back.)
But that wasn’t the only example of elbows being thrown on the right. Paul’s victory in the CPAC straw poll was at least partially stepped on when the Senate Conservatives Fund (Cruz allies who hate Paul-endorsed Sen. Mitch McConnell) released the results of their competing straw poll, creating confusion and serving to dampen the enthusiasm of Paul’s victory.
And we were also reminded of the nascent Cruz-Palin alliance. Last month, he wished her a happy birthday; this month, she publicly praised him during her CPAC speech. (Although the alliance is becoming obvious, the courting began years ago, when Palin campaigned for Cruz in Texas during his Senate bid, and was strengthened when the two appeared on the CPAC stage together last year. It seems to be a political marriage made in heaven; both have a background in Pentecostalism, and a penchant for populist conservative rhetoric. And, most recently, Palin and Cruz’s father both endorsed the same failed congressional candidate in Texas.)
But while Cruz is accumulating powerful presumed supporters, and seeking to cast Paul as outside the mainstream on foreign policy, it’s hard to argue that Rand Paul won’t have a superior campaign organization.
“Rand will be able to combine Liberty activists from previous campaigns, with a broad base of pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Right to Work conservative grassroots activists that would prove a formidable combination should he choose to run,” says one Paul advisor. (Paul is often thought of solely as a libertarian, but it’s important to note his strong pro-life stance — for example, his fight over an amendment defining “when life begins.”)
By tapping into the Ron Paul network (and its accumulated experience and institutional knowledge), as well as activists aligned with groups like the National Right to Work Committee (even here, Paul’s advantage is a double edged-sword), Paul will presumably have a logistical advantage over a candidate who was elected just two years ago — and has endured only won one real political campaign in his career.
Consider this: In 2012, Ron Paul garnered 21 percent of the vote in Iowa, doubling his 2008 performance. It wasn’t enough for the senior Paul to win, but it serves to demonstrate how building lists and grassroots support and accumulated knowledge can come in handy when you want to build an organization in a place like Iowa.
As I’ve noted, Paul has some problematic baggage and other challenges to overcome – but it’s also fair to say that combining his father’s base of support with the younger Paul’s more mainstream image and ability to communicate is a potent force. Couple that with his institutional advantage, and you get a sense of how formidable he may be.
It’s easy to scoff at Paul’s CPAC victory (since it has historically not a predictor of electoral success), but the demonstrated ability to organize isn’t a joke.
In this case, Paul’s numbers were bolstered by a large contingent of Young Americans for Liberty students, whom one can expect will be on Team Rand when push comes to shove in a presidential contest. At some point, the Paul team’s ability to win straw polls and online polls might actually translate into winning elections. And in this regard, one gets the sense that the younger Paul might have a better chance of capitalizing on this than his father.
This isn’t to say that Paul is a “shoo-in” to emerge as the favored conservative contender for the GOP nomination, but it is to say that Paul has logistical and infrastructure advantages that are often missed by reporters who are judging things like applause lines and national polls.
And if Paul is able to fend off Cruz and become the conservative, anti-establishment alternative, who knows where that might lead? “No other candidate can match up so well in all four early primary states, and have a legitimate shot to do well or win in all of them,” says a Paul aide.