Borderline

At WaPo’s The Fix, where it’s apparently Wingnut Week, Aaron Blake had a post yesterday on Sen. Rand Paul’s efforts to stake out a position well to the right of any potential 2016 presidential primary opponents:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is quickly establishing himself as the conservative option in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Paul’s statement at Wednesday’s Senate hearing on Libya that he would have fired Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be replayed over and over on cable news in the hours to come. But it’s hardly the first time he’s put himself in the middle of a controversy — and chosen about the most conservative posture possible.

Blake then runs through some of young paleo-libertarian’s recent escapades, including votes against anything vaguely resembling a fiscal deal; a vote against Sandy assistance; and a shot at Chris Christie. He then suggests Paul is in the process of establishing himself as the “true conservative” candidate of 2016, presumably dragging the whole field to the right.

Blake’s general point is spot-on, since nothing has quite characterized recent GOP presidential nomination candidacies more than the gnawing fear of being outflanked on the right. Yet Paul’s foreign policy and civil liberties views may well prevent him from ever defining the rightward borderline that separates the GOP from the people in tinfoil hats; “true conservatives” have a lusty taste for war, and typically favor civil liberties only for white male American “patriots” stockpiling military weapons in case Obamacare drives them to violent revolution. The only similar candidate in recent years was Pat Buchanan, who only gained traction in 1992 and 1996 as a magnet for protest votes against the front-running RINOs Poppy Bush and Bob Dole, and then faded fast when things got serious.

In a crowded field, the more-conservative-than-thou competition could indeed become heated, but it’s not clear to me that Rand Paul is more “conservative” than, say, Bobby Jindal or perhaps even Marco Rubio. Rick Perry, when he’s strutting around on a stage feeding red meat to right-wing audiences instead of having to think on his feet, is capable of vein-popping extremism, too. And you never know, the experience of 2008 and 2012 could perhaps convince movement-conservative types to unite early behind one candidate, as they did with George W. Bush in 2000 (though you’d never know it from how they denounce him today as a sell-out).

Let’s see who all shows up for the circus before identifying the most colorful clown.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.