Why Rand Paul will never be president
If you are only a casual observer of Republican politics in America, or no observer at all, you may not understand what has become a truism for electoral success amongst conservatives. David Ludwig at The Atlantic explains the dynamic succinctly, using same-sex marriage as a salient case-in-point.
Threading the needle by appeasing the conservative base—which tends to supply the majority of primary voters—without coming across as too extreme for moderates is a challenge for any presidential candidate, but it has been especially difficult for Republicans since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010. With the 2016 primaries fast approaching, nowhere is this challenge clearer than on the issue of same-sex marriage, where popular opinion has shifted dramatically in its favour, while the Republican right remains overwhelmingly opposed.
According to a May, 2014 Gallup poll, support for gay marriage doubled between 1996 and 2014, from 27 percent support to 55 percent support. Much of the shift appears to have been generational, with 78 percent of 18-29 year olds now supporting gay marriage as opposed to just 42 percent of those over the age of 65. Meanwhile, support among Independents is at 58 percent, with self-described moderates polling slightly higher at 63 percent. Republican support hovers around 30 percent.
It's a problem because many swing voters don't particularly expect Republicans to change long held positions on things like gay marriage, reproductive rights, and immigration reform. What they listen for, however, is the bile Republican candidates exhibit in expressing those positions.
As Ludwig correctly asserts, threading the needle means saying the things that need to be said to attract activist conservatives, without the spitting anger and ugliness that will turn off more mainstream Americans.
It's a cute trick, and I've seen it work. Rand Paul didn't get the memo. Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee wouldn't understand it if they got it, which is why none of these people will ever be president of the United States.