Josh Green doesn't think it heralds a "tea party tidal wave":
Paul's celebrity dad brought him money, volunteers, name recognition, and media attention, particularly on Fox News. What other Tea Party candidate can match that? ... Democratic turnout was much, MUCH higher than Republican turnout.
And Grayson went to Harvard. Did I say that with enough of a tea-party snarl? But I suspect the small-government integrity of Paul won many over in this anti-government moment. Chait says Paul's win gives the Democrats a chance at the seat:
Democrats will run Jack Conway against Rand Paul. This puts the Kentucky Senate seat in play -- Rand is the favorite but Conway has a shot. I have a pet theory that a politician's name is a major factor -- I'd guess being named "Jack Conway" is worth several points more than being named "Daniel Mongiardo."
Because of Paul's impressive 24-point margin of victory, almost any explanation you might proffer probably contains some element of truth. But for all his libertarian and tea-party dressing, Paul in fact ran on a fairly conventional, conservative platform. He's pro-life, anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration ... there are only the faintest hints of libertarianism here.
Tim Mak has a summary of Paul's position on national defense, which is where things get interesting. I want Paul to win this seat, so we can get a fiscal conservative Republican in the Senate who can put defense spending on the table. Rand's position on this is mostly his father's:
Rand Paul has indicated that the possibility of an Iranian nuke doesn’t bother him; that he supports the shuttering of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility; and that he’s shaky on support for the surge in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.
While Conway has also been hesitant to support the surge in Afghanistan, he has indicated that he favors increasing terrorism prevention funding and pay for active duty personnel. Kentucky’s 344,000 veterans will take note.
Largely for this reason, Frum is distraught:
How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul? In the past few months, we have seen GOP conservatives rally against Utah Sen. Bob Bennett. There has been no similar rallying against Rand Paul: no ads by well-funded out-of-state groups. Some senior Republicans, like former VP Dick Cheney, indicated a preference for opponent Trey Grayson. But despite Paul’s self-presentation as “anti-establishment,” the D.C. conservative establishment by and large made its peace with him. It is this acquiescence even more than Paul’s own nomination that is the most ominous news from tonight’s vote.
[During his speech, Rand Paul] came off to me as arrogant, bellicose and even a little messianic in his demeanor. To put it baldly, he sounded like a jerk...
In any case, that's actually quite different from his father. I find Ron Paul's politics awful and he's a classic ideologue. But as a person he comes off as pretty humble and even unassuming, which I've always thought is the reason he manages to have a certain degree of crossover popularity despite his draconian and often ugly politics.
Rand Paul first attracted attention in Kentucky because he was Rand Paul. Then he married his anti-government message to his father's economic libertarian movement. He parried against an opponent, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who embodied the establishment. Nevermind that this establishment was doing everything in its power to thwart Barack Obama ... politics doesn't always make sense. But Paul was change. A specific kind of change. He was acceptable enough for frustrated conservative base voters. And he's going to be a tough candidate for Democrats to beat in the fall.
Yglesias goes further, labeling Rand Paul a "lunatic":
The rise of Rand Paul and his securing the GOP nomination for the Kentucky Senate seat is one of the things that will spark divergent reactions in DSCC headquarters and in the minds of responsible liberals. By nominating a lunatic, Republicans have suddenly taken what should be a hopeless Senate race and turned it into something Democrats can win. At the same time, by nominating a lunatic, Republicans have suddenly raised the odds that a lunatic will represent Kentucky in the United States Senate.
Reason profiled Rand Paul earlier this month:
Unlike his father, Rand opposes civilian trials for terror detainees. He would “ultimately” close Gitmo, but not until it is determined what will be done with the prisoners, who he does not want sent to the United States. In their joint interview, when the elder Paul expressed his opposition to trying suspected terrorists before military tribunals, Rand quipped, “Now my father has only been here for 20 minutes, and you’re already making me disagree with him. We haven’t even had a chance to say hello.” Ron Paul responded, “I think Rand just proved that he’s his own man and can think for himself.”
Paul may well win the general election, but I continue to think there's a good chance that Republican gains this year will be harmed overall by the nomination of ideologically extreme nominees, and in some cases less capable candidates, and by the pressure in other districts for mainstream conservatives to act as if they were ideologically extreme. It will be interesting to see how Paul in particular fares in a general election context; Kentucky is a good state for Republicans, and with a mainstream conservative candidate I don't think it would have been a contest, but now I'd expect a fair amount of uncertainty. The question is how many districts around the nation are having similar results. Hey, reporters! More about 2010 House nominees, please!
(Photo: A tea-party protest by Bill Pugliano/Getty.)