GOPers Make Friends With Rand Paul, But What Are They In For?

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Mainstream Republicans have their work cut out for them if Rand Paul wins in Kentucky tomorrow. If the polls are to be believed, Paul is about to become the GOP nominee to replace the retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, and Republican leaders are already getting on board. As we’ve seen over the past week or so, establishment Republicans are preparing to embrace Paul as their man in the fall. But what are they in for? Paul is no establishment Republican, and bringing him into the fold could make for some uncomfortable joint campaign appearances between now and November.

Republicans have no choice but to get behind Paul if he wins, and doubtless most prominent Republicans will praise him when he does. But that means they’ll have to take uncomfortable questions on Paul’s “unorthodox views,” as Salon reports them, “including a desire to abolish both the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education.”Paul has been critical of the Patriot Act (he’s suggested parts of it are unconstitutional) and has said he would have voted against the Iraq War. Those stances make praising Paul hard enough for some mainstream Republicans, and we haven’t even gotten to his view that drug legalization is an argument “best left up to the states” (he told Time he’d support federal drug laws however.)

Republican leaders are going to have a hard time integrating those views into endorsement speeches. (Thank goodness there’s President Obama to rail against or they might really find themselves in trouble.)

And should Paul win in November, they’ll have to deal with a Senator who libertarian Republicans consider one of their own Rand has said repeatedly that he’s not Ron Paul, but his father’s supporters are excitedly following and supporting his campaign anyway.

Then there are the tea parties. Where many in the mainstream GOP have acknowledged the tea party movement and even praised it for its tenacity, few have gone as far as Paul when it comes to reaching out to the group.

“The larger the victory the more the mandate for the tea party,” Paul told the AP over the weekend when asked what a primary win would mean.

Tea partiers in Kentucky agree, according to one organizer. They’re looking forward to getting a little respect from mainstream Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell if and when Paul wins. Tea partiers see Paul as their ticket into the GOP tent, and they expect him to bring their values with him as he joins the establishment as Republican nominee.

“Mainstream Republicans try to steer clear of us,” Louisville, KY Tea Party founder Wendy Caswell told me today. “A Rand Paul victory would mean that he [McConnell] has to pay us a little more attention.”

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