I disagree with some of Rand Paul’s more libertarian positions, especially on social issues. And I’m certainly not endorsing him or anyone else to be the Republican nominee for president at this time. But Sen. Paul of Kentucky did two things recently that won my favor. He showed the 2,500 conservative activists at the CPAC conference last weekend that he understands what the GOP must do if it wants to take the Senate this fall and win back the White House.
And then on Monday he wrote a good column for Breitbart.com calling for his fellow Republican presidential wannabes to, as the headline said, “Stop warping Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy.”
CPAC, as all conservatives and political junkies know, is the annual bathing beauty competition for every Republican who’s ever had a daydream about running for president.
Sen. Paul’s brand of libertarian-leaning conservatism has shifted the GOP’s center of gravity his way and everyone at CPAC knew it.
He was the landslide winner in the straw poll, taking 31 percent of the vote. Ted Cruz stumbled in second with 11 percent and neurosurgeon Ben Carson had 9 percent. The media’s favorite conservative, Chris Christie, managed 8 percent.
At CPAC Sen. Paul had a personal victory, but he also did the right thing for the GOP. He went out of his way to give his full support to fellow Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who’s up for reelection.
It wasn’t because Sen. Paul is moving to the McConnell center of the GOP, it was because he wants his party to win the U.S. Senate in the fall.
A Republican Senate is Prize Number One. Making friends and cementing cracks in the party is what’s most important right now and Sen. Paul understands that side of the equation.
In his Breitbart column he did two good things. He reminded his more bellicose fellow presidential competitors that their hero Ronald Reagan was a peacemaker and a negotiator, not a war-maker.
Saying he admired Ronald Reagan because he “was not rash or reckless with regard to war,” Sen. Paul pointed out that my father, who believed in “Peace Through Strength,” was attacked harshly by the hawks in the Republican Party.
He was called an appeaser for meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Iceland and for pulling American forces out of Lebanon after 241 Marines died in the suicide bombing there in 1983.
In his column Sen. Paul also told conservative Republicans something else they need to remember - something I’ve spent half my life preaching and he has been practicing.
Sen. Paul wrote that he doesn’t claim to be the next Ronald Reagan and will not engage in disparaging his fellow Republicans for “not being sufficiently Reaganesque.”
But, he said, no doubt thinking of Sen. Ted Cruz, “I will remind anyone who thinks we will win elections by trashing previous Republican nominees or holding oneself out as some paragon in the mold of Reagan, that splintering the party is not the route to victory.”
Splintering itself is something the GOP has become really good at doing.
The 2012 presidential primary was a cluster suicide mission for conservative Republicans, which is why Moderate Mitt was the last candidate standing.
Then, because 25 percent of evangelicals stayed home in November rather than vote for Romney, we ended up with “The Obama Horror, Part 2.”
Liberals speak with one voice. Conservatives are a squabbling family of factions -- social conservatives, economic conservatives and libertarian conservatives.
But if conservatives of all stripes want the GOP to win in 2016 they have to come together and pick their best candidate early, then let the party moderates fight among themselves and split their votes.
That’s what happened in 1980. My father was the only conservative in the primary and he got to watch as the George H.W. Bush moderates and Rockefeller Republicans beat each other up and split their votes.
That’s the way it should work in 2016 - after the GOP takes the Senate.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). He is the founder of the email service reagan.com and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at www.reagan.com and www.michaelereagan.com. Send comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com. Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.