According to various reports, Rand Paul is going to speak at this month’s Republican National Convention.
The news somewhat answers a question bandied in the media: what role will Ron or Rand Paul play at the convention? It is likely that this is just the pay-off for Rand Paul’s June endorsement of Mitt Romney.
Although a prime-time speaking slot at a major party convention isn’t what it used to be, like Illinois state senator Barack Obama in 2004, this may be the younger Paul’s introduction to a national audience.
Quickly being recognized as one of the more conservative members of Congress, Paul is beginning to come up as the example of a right-wing bogeyman as Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill recently did as a way of discrediting one of her potential general election opponents, Representative Todd Akin.
But if his speech is too memorable, and Romney manages to lose in November, Paul might be setting himself up to be the scapegoat.
In 1992, when such an opportunity was more valuable, Pat Buchanan’s price for an endorsement of incumbent president George H. W. Bush, whom he had challenged in the primaries, was a prime-time speaking slot. That speech became the famous (or infamous) Culture War speech. Today, popular history regards the Culture War speech as a millstone to Bush’s reelection chances that year.
But Buchanan’s biographer Timothy Stanley explodes the “Myth of Houston” in The Crusader. Not only did the Bush people sign off on the speech beforehand, but after the convention Bush still received the customary bounce in the polls and went from trailing Clinton 52-35 to only 45-42. When Bush limped to the finish line Buchanan became a convenient scapegoat for Right and Left: The Left because it was a frontal assault on the march of 1960’s cultural liberalism and the Right because it was easier than accepting that Bush was a listless candidate.
The speech elevated Buchanan’s profile, quite a feat for someone who was already a TV personality and a widely syndicated columnist, from being little more than Bush’s token challenger to winning four states in 1996 and almost derailing Bob Dole.
The myth that Buchanan cost Bush in 1992 is just that – a myth, but he’s also never really recovered from the perception that he did.
Rand Paul is not likely to talk about controversial social issues – save perhaps the HHS contraception mandate – but he is adept at throwing red meat to the base.
The GOP has been slow to accept Senator Paul and surely some of the younger Paul’s decision to endorse Romney hinged on a desire to avoid alienating himself within the party.
Rand Paul is no Pat Buchanan and that’s too bad. But the moral of the story remains the same. If a candidate who doesn’t always play ball with the party can be marginalized – he will be – if there is an opportunity.