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Father, Son, Which One Will Run?

Who'll be the right Paul for President in 2012?

By 4.15.11

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Donald Trump was wrong when he said Ron Paul "has just zero chance of getting elected." When the buzz about Trump's presidential campaign dies down, it's quite possible that Ron Paul -- if he runs in 2012 -- would outperform Trump in the long run.

While he does not have a good chance of getting elected, it's better than zero. The Texas Congressman gained a higher delegate count than heavyweights like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in the 2008 Republican primary. He placed second in Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. As for experience in "getting elected," Paul has won 12 terms to the House of Representatives, three of those times as a non-incumbent.

Unless lightning strikes, Paul will not be the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, despite his rabidly enthusiastic following, adept fundraising skills and name recognition from his 2008 campaign. But he has won the unscientific Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll two consecutive years, beating out Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.

He has thus far been unclear as to whether he would make another run for the office he sought first as the Libertarian Party nominee in 1988, then as the only anti-Iraq war candidate in the GOP primary 20 years later. Even family members are apparently uncertain.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky doesn't know what his father's intentions are, only that "he sure seems to be going to New Hampshire and Iowa a lot. So we'll see what that indicates." Then again, Rand Paul has visited Iowa and South Carolina. What does that indicate?

"I've told people basically the only thing I've decided is that I would not run against my dad. I figure that since he is my landlord, that's the least I can do," joked the senator.

But on a more serious note, the younger Paul added, "I do want to be part of the process. If my dad shouldn't run, I've told people that I will entertain the thought of running, because I think the tea party needs to have a voice at the table."

"No matter who's running, I do want to participate in some way or fashion, in determining who the nominee is," Rand Paul continued. "If that means running personally or actually trying to help a candidate who I think can really articulate our message, I think that hasn't been decided yet."

At 75, it is logical to believe Ron Paul might be ready to pass the torch. The question is whether Rand Paul, in the first year of his first term as a U.S. senator is ready. The younger Paul did manage to deliver much of his father's message in a more pragmatic way and won a statewide office which his father never has.

Regardless of which Paul runs for president, voters will decide if either or neither is the right man for the job. But for now, Rand may be the right Paul for the 2012 campaign.

Although his 2010 campaign was not gaffe free, the younger Paul is a savvy candidate. In the GOP primary, Paul trounced Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the handpicked candidate of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who practically built the modern Republican Party in the Bluegrass state. In November, Paul won a decisive victory over Kentucky's Attorney General Jack Conway, despite an ugly smear campaign by Democrats.

On April 2, Rand Paul was the keynote speaker at the "Night of the Rising Stars" event in Des Moines, Iowa, sponsored by the Iowa Republican Party.

"It's not enough just to be a Republican," Sen. Paul told the Iowa crowd. "It's not enough just for the Republican party to exist. Political parties are empty vessels unless we imbue them with values. We have to stand for something, and we have to mean it."

These are the kind of words that get the conservative base fired up, particularly after House Speaker John Boehner struck a deal with the Democrats to avert a government shutdown that many conservatives and tea partiers don't find very satisfactory.

Earlier this year, Rand Paul proposed an unrealistic budget proposal of $500 billion in cuts that would among other things eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Education. Good policy, but not something that could ever pass in Washington. That's not the point. The point was to propose a budget as it should be given the fiscal crisis.

This month, Paul made headlines by objecting -- on constitutional grounds -- to President Obama's use of force in Libya without first getting approval from Congress. In a smart political move, Paul used Obama's own words -- from December 2007 -- for a sense of the Senate motion.

As a presidential candidate, Obama told the Boston Globe, "The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tabled the motion with those words to spare Democrats the embarrassment of taking a stand on whether Obama acted in accordance with the Constitution.

The Republican Party doesn't speak with one voice on intervention in Libya, but Paul could be a candidate representing the views of the more non-interventionist wing of the party.

His candidacy would be a long shot, but less of one than his father's. Rand Paul can deliver the same message but in a more inclusive way. He would have nearly all of Ron Paul's devoted following, but would broaden that base. In the conservative movement, some of the talk radio hosts that blast Ron Paul have nothing but praise for Rand Paul.

He has talked less about decriminalizing drugs, ending the Federal Reserve and withdrawing from the United Nations, and more about term limits, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and legislation to require members of Congress to read a bill before voting on it -- all popular and sensible measures to most Americans, though perhaps no more likely to pass than the less popular initiatives promoted by his father.

And, how many times have you heard that Republicans need a new face for 2012?

No, he would not be the strongest general election candidate to challenge Obama. Beyond the conservative and tea party movement, he would have trouble with swing voters in the general election. But, if you haven't noticed, Obama has also built some ill will among independent swing voters.

Another drawback: The president had four years in the Senate when he was elected. Rand would have just two by the end of 2012. Experience would be and should be an issue in a presidential election. But unlike the incumbent president, Rand, an ophthalmologist, actually had a real job, and ran a small business. So he would have a better idea about how the economy works than most of the Obama administration.

A losing bid for the GOP nomination would not hurt Sen. Paul. It would raise his national profile from a leading tea party figure to the leading tea party figure. While Kentucky Democrats would likely use the 2012 campaign against him in the 2016 Senate re-election campaign, that's not the kind of issue that galvanizes an average voter to oust an incumbent senator.

Ultimately, the younger Paul has a strong future in the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Perhaps the best argument against his running is that a conservative wouldn't want to lose him in the Senate, where he can spend a lot more time championing freedom and targeting big government waste.

More than likely it will be Ron Paul who will make one more bid for the White House, one that will draw plenty of enthusiasm, contribute significantly to the public debate and -- unlike the Trump candidacy -- will be based on ideas and a legitimate grass roots movement not celebrity.

But the chatter the father-son duo is creating in the presidential race is proving them to be perhaps the newest and most intriguing political dynasty.

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About the Author

Fred Lucas is the White House correspondent for CNSNews.com.