COMMENTARY | Who will be the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nominee? Mitt Romney, former Republican governor of Massachusetts and 2012 GOP presidential nominee who put in a solid performance, says he will not run again. Chris Christie, current New Jersey governor whose GOP rising star status has been severely damaged by ongoing scandal, is likely down for the count. This leaves Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul.
Of the four possible candidates, three are young, first-term U.S. Senators. Jeb Bush, a veteran politician who has served two terms as governor of Florida, is a moderate Republican who will likely be the heavyweight primary opponent of whichever of the trio of young Tea Party congressmen emerges as top dog. Senator Paul (R-KY) needs to find a way to differentiate himself from Senators Rubio (R-FL) and Cruz (R-TX) and become the non-moderate Republican choice for president. He may have found it in suing president Barack Obama over recent NSA spying, according to CNN.
Suing the Obama administration is a bold move. Paul, a staunch libertarian, gains some distinct advantages and disadvantages by going on the offensive against an incumbent liberal president with a lawsuit that, according to its backers, is about protecting the U.S. Constitution.
First of all, the lawsuit gives Paul some street cred and skin in the political game that might not be possible with simple policy proposals. Senators can churn out bills all day long that may never be voted on but a lawsuit, though an irregular tactic, carries some real weight. A lawsuit requires a response. Essentially, by filing a lawsuit rather than proposing policy, Paul has made himself the public opponent of the Obama administration while Rubio and Cruz are still writing op-eds.
Secondly, Paul picks up a diverse range of supporters by challenging the NSA spying and standing up to big government. Libertarians, small-government conservatives, and anti-war and freedom-of-speech liberals will flock to Paul, delighted by Paul’s mission to take on America’s bloated government intelligence agencies. Paul’s actions make for confusing bedfellows but, just maybe, successful campaigning.
Third, it puts Democrats on the defensive during midterms and provides Paul a chance to gain support among fellow Republicans running for office. The 2014 midterm season provides aspiring 2016 presidential candidates a chance to earn favors and, thus far, Paul has fired the biggest salvo against the incumbent liberal administration, earning him the admiration of his fellows. If Paul plays his cards right he could beat both Rubio and Cruz in the favor count, arriving at the 2016 Republican primaries with a political advantage.
However, although firing the first and strongest salvo against Democrats during the 2014 midterms could be an advantage to Paul by making incumbent Republicans happy, it could make moderates nervous. And Rand Paul, whether he likes it or not, needs the support of moderates if he hopes to win in 2016. On the whole, however, it may be to his advantage to be more zealous now because he has plenty of time to swing toward the sociopolitical middle after he locks down the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Paul’s necessary swing to the middle might be preempted by any of the other Republican rising stars, making a zealous lawsuit filed too early a definite risk. By filing the lawsuit Paul has established himself far to the right, leaving plenty of space for the other three Republican powerhouses to insert themselves between him and the middle, perhaps gaining a larger share of public support. By making the first move he has opened up many other possible moves for his competitors.
In summation, Paul’s lawsuit has sufficient political savvy. It gives him the aura of “designated contender” and, despite creating some political risks, has been done early enough to give him time to do damage control if necessary.