Here’s the rebuttal to detail why he fails to make his case.
Let’s be clear: There is a case to be made that Paul isn’t the front-runner. One could point to polls and say it is Mike Huckabee, or cite current establishment buzz and make the case for Jeb Bush.
But Prokop does neither. Instead, he summons a UCLA political science professor to repeat one of the most recycled and trite lines in politics: These early polls don’t matter.
To say the numbers aren’t predictive is certainly true. (The Run 2016 expects the front-runner to shift many times between now and when primary voting begins. That’s why there’s The Chase, to track the movement.) But to say the numbers don’t matter in the moment is the equivalent to shunning science.
Sure, polls, like pols, are flawed. But it’s the best evidence we’ve got.
Prokop notes the swings in polls are taken “among a tiny population of potential voters – and worse, a population that is unusual in both ideology and enthusiasm.”
True, but the actual early primary electorate is also quite small and therefore different from the general electorate.
In 2012, just over 120,000 Republicans participated in the Iowa caucuses – meaning a candidate could win it with under 30,000 votes. In the last New Hampshire GOP primary, the number of voters totaled just over 248,000. Only in South Carolina did the pool crack the half million mark. Just over 600,000 trekked to the GOP Palmetto State primary polls in 2012.
All in total, in a country of 313 million people, under a million people will have a defining impact on selecting the Republican nominee.
So yes, these polling samples are small, but relatively, so is the universe of people who participate. Additionally, a good chunk – if not a majority – of those who will vote are paying attention. That’s what makes them “activists” or “the base.” And that’s where one starts in building a coalition.
Next, Prokop cites the “invisible primary” -- referring to the establishment figures and party poobahs who prize electability and intend to mold the nomination process. Granted, they are important figures to track, but if anything, Prokop ignores the progress Paul has made on that front.
Take how, during a trip to South Carolina last summer,
Paul allayed the fears of Rep. Joe Wilson that Paul was weak on national defense.
“He really did address the concern I had, which was his position relative to national defense. I had a misperception that he did not recognize national defense as a paramount function of government. But he really made it clear tonight he does,” Wilson said in an interview. “He reiterated something very important to me and to the people of South Carolina: that he is a stalwart of a strong national defense. I was very pleased by his positive comments.”
It’s just one example, but it’s a telling anecdote in how Paul has been courting those far outside his libertarian core.
This weekend in New Hampshire, Paul will not only star a tea party-aligned rally sponsored by Americans For Prosperity. He’ll also headline two fundraisers on behalf of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee. It doesn’t get more establishment than that.
While Prokop points out Paul’s legitimate weaknesses, he simultaneously ignores all the groundwork the senator has done to improve his standing with more traditional GOP constituencies. Paul conducted more early state primary travel in 2013 than any other potential aspirant. It’s counted for something.
Finally, in his article, Prokop notes the roller coaster ride of the 2012 primary, when insurgents like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich were front-runners of the moment.
But that’s exactly the point. There were multiple front-runners of the moment in 2012 before the voters settled on Mitt Romney.
This is not a forecast that Paul will be the nominee.
This is to say that, taking all the evidence together, Paul is the leader of the pack, with the healthy caveat that front-runners aren’t predictors of the future, but rather measurements of the moment.