But Rand Paul’s base in Iowa does not equal everyone who voted for his father plus. Ron Paul’s base in Iowa welded together economic and anti-war libertarians with home-school activists and social conservatives. There’s more competition for that vote now, thanks in part to the Paul family’s success in spreading the gospel.
“The 22 percent that Ron Paul got here is more like a ceiling than a floor,” said Steve Deace, a West Des Moines-based radio host, when we talked in his rec room plastered in Star Wars and Michigan sports memorabilia. “Go back to the gay marriage decisions at the Supreme Court this year. The gaffe that he made praising Anthony Kennedy? That was a devastating gaffe. You’re talking about praising a guy who essentially wrote an anti-Christian polemic disguised as a Supreme Court brief. I could have read that at Think-frickin’-Progress.”
Outside of Iowa’s conservative circles, Rand Paul’s comment on the Prop 8 ruling didn’t really read as a “gaffe.” Kennedy, in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, accused the Congress that passed it of merely trying to “harm a politically unpopular group.” Paul reacted by praising Kennedy as someone “who doesn’t just want to be in front of opinion but wants government to keep up with opinion.” To a conservative like Deace, that read like Paul pivoting to a popular position—he’s not as much opening a big Republican tent as setting up kiosks and selling different wares. “The idea that you can build a coalition around you isn’t true,” he says. “It’s about where you are on the issues. The focus on personality comes later. That’s what Reagan understood … that’s why Ted Cruz appeals to people.”
Paul’s allies do understand that. “If Rand Paul runs and he counts on the entire Ron Paul group to vote automatically for him, it would be a mistake,” wrote Steenhoek. “He is unlikely to make that mistake. I believe he understands the ‘Paul’ coalition is Liberty minded, not personality minded.”
It had better be, because the Paul family’s last venture into Iowa ended in an ongoing scandal. State Sen. Kent Sorenson, who’d backed Michele Bachmann over Paul, dramatically switched sides at the close of the race. Bachmann, who apparently had been giving Sorenson a paid role, accused him of taking a payoff. Sorenson denied it. But Sorenson is under investigation, and the Iowa Republican, a Santorum-friendly blog, keeps leaking phone calls and emails obtained by the 2008 Paul campaign’s former national field director, all of them suggesting that Sorenson expected money from his new boss.
So far, even Paulworld’s critics don’t see the connection between Sorenson and the current leadership of the Iowa GOP. (Sorenson ignored a request for comment, as he’s done basically since I saw him at the 2012 Iowa victory party for Paul and he said, “I’m not doing any interviews.”) The point is that the national Paul organization that got close to winning Iowa in 2012 can’t just restart the clock if Rand Paul runs. His Iowa allies are now battle-scarred; his following is going to be courted by every other candidate who waves the Gadsden flag.
“I believe that Rand can benefit from the loyalty of his followers outside of the central committee,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley in a Monday interview. “They’re in power because they outmaneuvered, in a fair way, people with other points of view. But they won’t affect the outcome of the caucus any more than I will.”