After accepting (as I do) the proposition that whatever happens to Chris Christie, he can no longer be described as the “frontrunner” for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Peter Beinart offers the rather provocative suggestion that Christie’s been replaced in that shadowy but showy role by none other than the Junior Senator from Kentucky.

Yeah, Beinart knows it’s early and this “frontrunner” business is slippery and a bit silly at this point. But he wants to make the case that Rand Paul’s nomination has become seriously imaginable, and I think he’s right unless both “constitutional conservatives” and the Republican Establishment find other champions pretty soon.

I do think Peter kind of tries to have it both ways in terms of Paul’s influence in Iowa: Rand’s daddy’s old campaign staffers now run the state party, which Beinart considers a big deal, but will soon likely be kicked out of office, which will give them more time to Stand With Rand. I personally think the sooner the “Liberty” faction loses its grip on the Republican Party of Iowa, the sooner Paul can cultivate support outside its tight circle. But he may suffer from the faction’s unpopularity without benefitting from any actual power they wield, the way the timing is working out.

Having said all that, you can’t beat somebody with nobody, and the widely scattered Republican presidential field that could survive to the Caucuses has no one with Paul’s combination of name ID, fundraising chops, and a passionate base of support in the early states. He’s obviously got a good ways to go in overcoming the suspicion of the militarist wing of the GOP that he’d shut down the Pentagon and sell out Israel, but he’s already made big improvements over Ron’s image in those circles, and Beinart’s right in noting that so long as the surveillance abuses and foreign interventions Paul attacks are Obama’s, they’ll be tolerated up to a point.

Beinart makes a disclaimer about potential scandals tripping up Paul, and I do strongly think his connections with the theocratic Constitution Party and some of the old man’s racist associates could eventually prove to be damaging if not disqualifying. But at this point, the wiggy but canny scion of Paulistan has a better shot at the nomination than the over-exposed Governor of New Jersey.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.