Rand Paul continues to be a loyal Republican soldier and come to the aid of the man who bested his father in the battle for the party’s presidential nomination. But as Paul stood with Mitt Romney at a rally in Ohio yesterday, some Republicans could be excused if their thoughts drifted toward what could be a different scene a few years from now.
Also at the gathering in Vandalia in southwest Ohio was Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate. The mission for the trio at the moment is to show their solidarity. Should Romney lose this year’s election, though, the venues Paul and Ryan share down the road may be as rivals for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
With no reason to think that Ryan won’t continue to acquit himself well on the campaign trail, he would emerge from a Romney defeat as one of the leading ’16 Republican White House contenders — if not the clear frontrunner. But plenty of others won’t be dissuaded from taking him on, a group that could include Paul, elected to the Senate from Kentucky two years ago.
In a Bloomberg News survey answered by 146 delegates to this year’s Republican National Convention from 10 swing states, Paul ran second to Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, as their choice for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016 should President Barack Obama win re-election. In what was admittedly a small sample, Paul’s backing was solid — he got 21 percent, to Ryan’s 25 percent.
Paul’s father, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, spent much of his swan-song bid for this year’s Republican nomination seeming to have an eye on his son’s standing within the party. During a number of debates and on the campaign trail, the elder Paul was notably restrained in taking on Romney. And during one of the few times when Romney’s path to the nomination appeared threatened — in this case by a suddenly ascendent Newt Gingrich at the end of last year — Ron Paul helped out by training his ad-fire on the ex-House speaker from Georgia.
True, Ron Paul decided to go rogue during last month’s convention in Tampa, refusing to provide Romney a full-throated endorsement. But on the same night his dad got a video tribute (in lieu of a speaking slot) at the convention, Rand Paul came through with a speech praising Romney (and only indirectly referring to his father).
Rand Paul should prove valuable to the Romney campaign’s efforts to keep to a minimum the number of Ron Paul backers who decide to hang tough and vote for their guy in key states as a write-in. Ryan spoke to that concern on Monday in Lima, Ohio, when asked why libertarian-oriented voters should back the Republican ticket. “Do you want Barack Obama to be re-elected?” Ryan responded. Assuming a no answer, he added: “Then don’t vote for Ron Paul.”
Still, if Romney falls short, for all Rand Paul’s loyalty to his party, his first challenge in gearing up for a presidential quest may be re-asserting his bona fides to his dad’s core supporters.