I wrote earlier this week about how Rand Paul is the only major Republican presidential candidate for whom there is political downside to opposing the Iran nuclear deal. Now his father is increasingly outspoken in his support for the pact.
The Kentucky senator and 2016 contender has tried to stake out a middle ground of supporting negotiations with Iran but opposing the specific deal on the table. Prominent supporters of his father are not impressed.
This comes as the Los Angeles Times is reporting a "reboot" of the younger Paul's campaign, getting back to libertarian basics. The story quotes Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie as saying, "All of the moments where he stands out — where he captures not just the political imagination, but the public American imagination — are the most libertarian."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Chris Christie has cited the Chattanooga, Tenn., shootings as an example of why Paul is wrong about the Patriot Act and government surveillance more generally. Paul by contrast has recommended more thorough immigration screening. To the more hawkish Republicans in the field, including a few who are hovering around the threshold of eligibility for the first debate, Paul is already too libertarian.
Polling-wise, the panic about Paul seems a bit overstated. Yes, there was that one recent national poll that showed him at 4 percent but it seems to be an outlier. Even with that survey included, Paul trails only Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and Scott Walker in the RealClearPolitics polling average. An Economist/YouGov poll had him tied with Trump for second place. He's generally been in the top tier in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
The fundraising numbers, while not terrible, should be more disconcerting because that was an area where Ron Paul frequently over-performed. Expectations for Rand are higher. Paul-aligned super PACs have yet to announce their fundraising totals.
Paul has faced challenges keeping the libertarian base excited while at the same time competing with populists to his Tea Party right. Expect him to try to stay out front on issues like defunding Planned Parenthood in the wake of the macabre video about selling fetal parts while pushing back against the Christies he might face on the debate stage. But Iran will remain a sticking point for those who want Paul to break as decisively with the GOP foreign-policy consensus as his father did.