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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Rand Paul’s exclusion shines the spotlight on Thursday night’s debate

By now if you’ve been paying attention to the Republican presidential race you’re aware of Ted Cruz’s well thought-out plan to capture the nomination through solidly conservative issue positions, outstanding on the ground organization and well managed campaign spending.

But delving a little deeper you’ll see how he’s successfully courting voters that might otherwise be supporting other candidates. Whereas Donald Trump seems intent on drawing out people who’ve never participated in the process before, Cruz is focusing on those who have always been politically active.
Rand Paul
And he’s building a core constituency that will help him do well in Iowa – and virtually everywhere else, too.

Stephen F. Hayes writes at the Weekly Standard, “Cruz is attempting to forge a winning coalition in Iowa that marries two parts of the Republican party long at war with one another. For decades, off and on, libertarians and social conservatives have battled to influence the direction of the Republican party on a wide range of issues: abortion and gay marriage, tax reform and faith-based initiatives, support for Israel and funding to battle AIDS in Africa, and many more.

“But in the current political environment, what separates these two GOP factions on policy is less important than what unites them politically: dissatisfaction with the establishment.”

In his article, Hayes describes a Cruz campaign event in the Hawkeye State where several videos were played prior to an appearance from the candidate himself. It’s well worth the read if you have time.

The videos appealed to both social conservatives and libertarians, depicting Cruz as the rightful heir of Ron Paul’s liberty movement (the only mention of Rand Paul in the presentation concerned the Kentucky senator’s endorsement of Cruz for his senate race in 2012).

Judging by the Iowa poll numbers, libertarians appear to have accepted Cruz’s claim to the Ron Paul mantle. Ron took over 20% of the Iowa vote in 2012 while son Rand is currently only polling at 4%.

And while the social conservative vote is split among several candidates (some going to Trump, some to Carson and a healthy chunk to Cruz), there’s little doubt that these folks see Cruz as one of their own.

Hayes’s story may be just a snapshot of a particularly conservative section of Iowa but the logic works in other parts of the country as well. The only region where the social conservative/liberty fusion wouldn’t have as much impact is perhaps in the northeast, though I’m told there are actually a lot of conservatives “up there” as well.

Let’s not forget that self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals in all but three states (and Washington DC, of course). For those of you dying to know which three states, they’re Hawaii, Vermont and Massachusetts, and even in these places the margin between the two ideologies is razor-thin.

Rand’s recent behavior provides more evidence that Cruz has taken over the Ron Paul coalition, too.

Last week Rand Paul joined in on the Trump “birther” bandwagon, for example. As reported by Reena Flores of CBS News, Paul said during a Fox News Radio interview, “I think without question he is qualified and would make the cut to be prime minister of Canada. Absolutely, without question.

"I'm not an expert on the natural-born clause in the Constitution and people have various opinions. And we've had some previous cases of it, but I don't think we've ever gone through the court system for the Supreme Court to decide one way or another."

In doing so, Paul basically teamed with John McCain in raising doubts about Cruz’s eligibility.

Rand is running for president. His poll numbers aren’t good and he’s in danger of missing the main stage in this week’s debate. He obviously sees what Hayes saw above – that Cruz has a firm hold on the libertarian vote in Iowa.

Bringing up the birther subject sounds desperate on Rand’s part, but it’s got to be frustrating to witness Cruz doing so well with his voter base.

Cruz has not exactly sought to keep his strategy a secret, so it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that it’s working so well.

Rand Paul’s exclusion shines the spotlight on Thursday night’s debate

Speaking of Rand Paul and Thursday night’s debate, the Kentucky senator was confident that he’d once again be included with the leaders on the big stage (as opposed to being demoted to the undercard forum earlier in the evening), but the Fox Business Network had other ideas.

Steven Shepard and Daniel Strauss of Politico report, “Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina have been booted to the undercard in Thursday night’s Republican primary debate as the number of main-stage candidates was cut to seven by stricter polling criteria.

“Paul, who is struggling to gain traction in the presidential race, immediately cried foul, and vowed to not participate in the event.”

You may recall Paul made a similar last-minute threat not to show in December to ensure his inclusion in the CNN event in Las Vegas. His poll numbers haven’t changed much in the month since, however, with his Real Clear Politics average now coming in at 2.8 percent. That puts Rand a full point behind sixth place Jeb Bush and only slightly higher than in mid-December (I think he was at 2.6 then, but CNN included him because he was seen as contending in Iowa).

The top six candidates in certain polls nationally qualified for this week’s debate, and John Kasich apparently made the cut because of his standing in New Hampshire.

By insisting that he won’t take part in the “Happy Hour” debate, Paul’s put himself in a unique position for several reasons. First, it increases the pressure on the networks to examine potential holes in their criteria for inclusion.

Next, Rand’s protest over being denied a place on the main stage draws additional attention to his campaign by “holding out.” I’m not sure it will all be positive attention, but any press is beneficial press at this stage of the race.

Lastly, Paul’s “no undercard” stance could signal he’s nearly ready to call it quits on his presidential run. This is probably the least likely scenario for Rand, because history would suggest the Paul family stays in it until the end – or at least until the contest is no longer in doubt.

Ron Paul didn’t stop campaigning in 2012 until mid-May and never formally suspended his campaign. Likewise he stopped actively campaigning in March of 2008 but still encouraged people to vote for him.

The resolute family Paul sees themselves as carrying the liberty movement forward. It’s more than a single political race to them. It’s advancing a message to build a movement that could eventually succeed with a political victory.

They likely feel that if Rand ends his campaign there will not be anyone to carry the liberty message forward. While Ted Cruz seems to share many of the Paul family values, there are some differences – at least in their eyes.

I don’t think Rand will have a problem endorsing Cruz should he win the nomination, but for now, it’s unlikely Paul will quit the contest.

As I’ve said several times before, the Republican race needs Rand Paul if only to present an alternative view when it comes to foreign policy and federalism. His presence also helps balance the realist side of the foreign policy argument against Rubio, Bush and the neocons.

Hillary slips in recent polls, is this 2008 all over again?

I’ve largely refrained from reporting on the Democrat presidential race because it didn’t look like there really was one to begin with.

Aside from the fact the Democrats don’t really differ markedly in their repetitive calls for big government socialism, there are only three candidates in the race. Talk about boring. And one of them is Bernie Sanders, who former Trump advisor Roger Stone called a “senile old coot.”

Well, those “old coot” qualities must be attractive to Democrats, because Sanders is apparently making headway against Hillary Clinton.

Ariel Cohen of the Washington Examiner reports, “Once thought of as a fringe candidate, socialist Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire in a new poll.

“Sanders edges Clinton 47 percent-44 percent among Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire, according to an American Research Group poll released on Monday.”

In case you think this one poll is an outlier, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll also showed Sanders ahead in Iowa.

Normally any dip in the polls for Clinton wouldn’t necessarily be a concern, but this follows a very similar pattern to what happened to her back in 2008. She was the heavy favorite going into that race, too, but then started losing ground to Mr. “Hope and Change,” Barack Obama.

The rest is history. Everyone knows how the story ends.

But it also reinforces the notion that Hillary Clinton is a damaged candidate who is anything but unbeatable.

She still must be regarded as the heavy favorite on the Democrat side, however. The Clinton machine simply won’t allow another embarrassing loss. They’ll pull out all the stops to win – and who knows how many Sanders supporters will be crushed along the way.

But what then? The Republicans look to be in good shape against her. This is a great chance to elect a real conservative and we’d better take advantage.

In politics, whoever has the most fun wins

Finally today, it isn’t often that a pearl of wisdom comes from the Republican elites, but I think self-described establishmentarian Alex Castellanos has hit on one.

In talking about a political race he worked on in Panama, Castellanos writes at CNN.com, “And that race, for me, gave birth to a new rule: The candidate having the most fun usually wins.

“Which returns us to a reflection that should scare all of us in Washington's GOP establishment, as noted in an interview conducted by Chuck Todd of ‘Meet the Press.’ Donald Trump is having a lot of fun, isn't he?

“More than anyone else.”

Contrast Trump’s joyride with the lethargic slog of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or Marco Rubio. They are supposedly “serious” candidates, but they don’t look like they’re having much fun.

Ted Cruz is having a good time too. That means the establishment should be very afraid of both Trump and Cruz.

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