Over at fivethirtyeight, Ed Kilgore pooh-poohs the notion that Rand Paul’s expected victory in today’s Republican U.S. Senate primary in Kentucky represents an anti-incumbent, insurgent mood among voters:
Kentucky has a closed primary system with a very early cutoff date for registration changes, so independents are quite literally not going to be a factor in Paul’s win or in the Democratic results, for that matter. Furthermore, there’s no incumbent in the race, and the actual incumbent, Jim Bunning, has endorsed Paul. . . Paul’s status as the candidate of “movement conservative” Republicans rather than tea-party independents or self-conscious libertarians, is buttressed by the endorsements he received from Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint and (in a reversal of an earlier Grayson endorsement) James Dobson.
What this analysis ignores is two facts. First, the polls show Paul with a lead outside the margin of error against both Democratic candidates, so his popularity is not just evidence of partisan polarization. Second, the endorsements from establishment figures have come very late in the game, after Paul had already built up his polling lead. Going back to December, Paul’s lead over Grayson has always been in the double digits.
It’s true that Paul has won over movement conservatives, including Internet activists like RedState.com, but his message has been about as libertarian as any Kentucky politician could ever afford to be: opposing the stimulus, opposing TARP, opposing Obamacare, and supporting reductions in spending to eliminate the deficit, while making noises about “strong national defense,” saying the Iraq War was a mistake, and arguing for a “more local approach to drugs.”
The fact that Paul’s message is popular does not mean that it’s not anti-establishment.