Rand Paul's dilemma
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With Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message Fox host claims Fauci lied to Congress, calls for prosecution MORE (R-Ky.) now jumping into the presidential field, he becomes the second major candidate to announce.

Paul is often described as the most "interesting" GOP candidate.

But he has a quandary, though. He has to grow his support, but in doing so, does he threaten his base?

First, let's consider Paul's strengths:

  • Paul begins this campaign, presumably, with his father's political base of libertarians in his corner. It is this base that has helped him win recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw polls. The base nearly delivered the Iowa Straw Poll to his father in 2012.
  • Republican Party leaders deeply appreciate his efforts to grow the GOP. His consistent outreach to the African-American community — whether opening the GOP office in Detroit or giving speeches at Bowie State University and Howard University — has been noteworthy.
  • Paul may be the single best GOP candidate at exciting young voters. He does this through his approach (wearing jeans, attending South by Southwest in Austin, Texas), but also by the issues he talks about (drug decriminalization, NSA spying, etc.).
  • Paul has enormous potential for online fundraising from small-dollar donors, with the potential to raise over $10 million from them alone in this calendar year.

Politically, Paul is the only candidate who has the potential to win the first four states in the calendar.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina all set up as strong states for him, based on his appeal and how his father performed in the recent past.

But Paul also has weaknesses:

  • He has not been disciplined over the past year, making rhetorical mistakes and clumsy statements that he has had to walk back on a range of issues. He has also displayed a prickly side, recently showing disdain for a CNBC anchor who was interviewing him.
  • His foreign policy views (dovish, noninterventionist and perhaps anti-Israel) are out of favor with the mainstream of today's GOP, at a time when foreign policy and national security issues are at the forefront of the national debate.
  • With no executive experience, Paul will have to explain how he is ready to run the sprawling federal government. This is a knock on all four Republican senators who are running.

But the central question is: how much does Paul hurt his brand of libertarian conservatism when he tries to broaden his base?

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Does he risk his support going to a similar candidate like Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBiden tries to erase Trump's 'America First' on world stage Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military GOP senators press Justice Department to compare protest arrests to Capitol riot MORE (R-Texas)?

The more "mainstream" he becomes, the more he threatens to undermine his image as a libertarian conservative who is an original thinker and an outsider.

The most interesting question is: What would a general election of Paul against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNSA leaker Reality Winner released from federal prison Monica Lewinsky signs production deal with 20th TV Police investigating death of TV anchor who uncovered Clinton tarmac meeting as suicide MORE look like? It would turn traditional ideological battles upside down, with perhaps the Democratic candidate being more of a hawk than the Republican, but the Republican appealing more to younger voters. The electoral map would be unlike any we have seen in recent memory.

This is part of Paul's strategy: to play up his electability, particularly as it relates to Cruz.

When Cruz announced for president two weeks ago, in response, Paul introduced a new word into the political lexicon: "winnability."

Rand Paul and his team believe he can win the nomination and the general election, with a path through both minefields. That path begins today in Louisville, Ky.

Mackowiak is a syndicated columnist; an Austin, Texas-based Republican consultant; and a former Capitol Hill and George W. Bush administration aide.