Theories of the Fall

May 21, 2010 7:07 p.m.

Josh Green has a theory about the Rand Paul implosion: the in-state Kentucky press has been so decimated by the newspaper crisis that there was no one to give him the kind of scrutiny Paul got on day one when he went national and had a head on collision with Rachel Maddow.

I usually find these sorts of explanations deeply unpersuasive, though one hears them more and more. Josh apparently does too, usually; but he spent some time down in Kentucky covering the Paul campaign and in this case he’s thinking there may be something to it. And because it’s Josh and because he’s actually spent some time down there, which I obviously haven’t, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’ve had another theory, though. And I think it actually dovetails nicely with the media crisis one. It’s basically this — all the stuff Paul is getting in trouble for now are things that would just be really tough to use against a candidate in a GOP primary in Kentucky, or frankly most red states, especially in 2010.One of the things we rely on in politics is an adversary system to weed out bad apples. We don’t just rely on the press. We rely on the self-interest of the candidates themselves to ferret out weaknesses and warning signs in their opponents. In this case, though, was Trey Grayson going to go after Paul for his archaic and troubling views on civil rights? In a GOP primary in Kentucky in 2010? I doubt it. And pretty much the same for thinking there shouldn’t be a minimum wage or that Mexico and Canada are going to take away our liberty or that there shouldn’t be an Americans with Disabilities Act or all the rest.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that most GOP primary voters would have agreed with Paul’s position. It’s just that they weren’t going to have any traction for a fairly milquetoast Republican like Grayson who needed to show that he was as anti-Obama and anti-federal overreach as the next guy in the year of the Tea Party. Just wasn’t going to happen. So in addition to the press, there was a structural breakdown in the race itself that left a lot of Paul’s nuttier positions unexplored.

Which brings us to another point. I’m not at all clear how much or whether any of this stuff is going to hurt Paul in the Kentucky Senate. I think the Rasmussen poll that showed him like a million points ahead a day after the election was nonsense. And Conway seems like a strong candidate. But, again, it’s far from clear to me that this is going to hurt Paul in state.

That’s now where this is cutting. Where this really has the potential to hurt Republicans is nationally. Whatever happens in Kentucky, Paul risks becoming the proverbial crazy uncle at the picnic they’re constantly having to explain or excuse or be embarrassed about.

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