Among libertarian circles, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is like royalty. On the one hand, being the son of long-time libertarian icon Ron Paul, the senator has the feeling of an heir apparent; on the other hand, having been swept into office by the Tea Party wave of 2010, Rand Paul has also radiated the sort of rebellious insurgency that can electrify a crowd on the campaign trail. Despite his relatively short time on the national stage, Sen. Paul has become a widely-recognized politician, and one of the top tier potential candidates for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016. According to a recent RealClearPolitics polling average, Paul is in third place in the Republican presidential horse race, behind only New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. This is perhaps the ideal political position for the Kentucky senator; he doesn’t have the target on his back that a frontrunner would, while the current frontrunners in the GOP race have significant liabilities, like “Bridgegate” and the Bush family name. And Sen. Paul doesn’t seem content to rely only on his father’s base at the far-flung fringes of the Republican Party; Politico wrote that Paul “has made a concerted move from the political fringes over the past year; now he’s on a mission to remake his party, too.”
And yet, it’s this very “move from the political fringes” that may prove politically problematic for Sen. Paul. In 2010, he won office in part due to an unwavering commitment to “principles,” and now, Paul’s observers are noting changes in the senator’s political positions that are more than just slight. In 2012 GOP primary, eventual nominee Mitt Romney faced criticism for what many perceived as “flip-flopping”; is Rand Paul setting himself up for similar problems?