Cost frets that the “Republican Party has so little control over its members that the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for president can run and win as a Republican just four (sic) years later.” But Paul is able to run and win as a Republican because Republican primary voters choose to nominate him as their candidate, and he then goes to Congress and joins the Republican caucus. When Paul returned to the House in 1996, he defeated a congressman — backed by the party establishment — who had been a Democrat two years before. Paul has served ten terms in Congress as a Republican, and although he bolts the party more than anyone else, he still votes with the GOP 75 percent of the time.
It’s also worth noting that Paul was far less controversial on the right and in the GOP in the 1990s than he has become since the Iraq war. On domestic policy, Paul is a tax-cutter, budget-cutter, pro-lifer, and Second Amendment supporter, all important parts of the Republican brand. On foreign policy, most Republicans were then opposed to the Kosovo war and other Clinton military interventions, showing that the party brand can change over time too.
Finally, it is not even clear that the party leadership’s lack of power over the rank and file is really that big of a problem. Let’s look at some Republicans who are far less controversial than Paul: Jeff Flake, Jim DeMint, and John Sununu. The have all watched their National Journal rankings drop for opposing things like No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Would we, or the Republican brand, really be that much better off if Flake and DeMint had to do whatever the party leadership said?