Rand Paul’s victory in the Kentucky Senate primary has befuddled and deranged much of the left. Matt Yglesias calls Paul a “lunatic,” while the Daily Caller reports on Democratic attempts to portray him as “out-of-touch, elitist, and selfish.” Ed Kilgore says Paul’s “radicalism,” identified by his association with the Tea Party and calls for “massive budget cuts,” is “politically perilous.” (What this misses is that ordinary voters don’t see the Tea Party as being a partisan Republican or far-right phenomenon, and Paul’s trumpeting of that connection is unlikely to hurt him among swing voters. Furthermore, polls show strong evidence that voters want large cuts to government spending, if necessary to close the deficit. There’s nothing in the rulebook that says Paul has to specify what he wants to cut.)
The trouble is that Paul is not a carbon-copy right-winger, and he left himself enough room, if not to move to the center in the traditional sense, at least to distance himself strongly from Bush-era Republicanism. Given that swing voters are not all that politically knowledgeable, for the most part, and interpret ideological cues rather straightforwardly, Paul should be able to create constructive ambiguity about his position on the left-right ideological spectrum.