Rand Paul, as a presidential candidate, has a few advantages over his father. Being a senator is a better credential than being a member of the House of Representatives. He’s also younger than his father was when he ran, so age isn’t such a big issue. Finally, he’s not as doctrinaire, so he has the advantage of being able to show a little flexibility. He can pander a little bit, here and there, which is helpful as long as it isn’t overdone. Much of Ron Paul’s appeal came from his near-absolute refusal to pander, but that also put a strict cap on the level of support he could attract.
However, despite these advantages, Rand Paul is not having a good run on the campaign trail. He’s gaining a reputation for inauthenticity. That’s hardly surprising in a serial plagiarist, but it’s beginning to bite him in the ass. It was always going to be inevitable that he would disappoint his father’s impassioned followers whenever he deviated from the libertarian line, but he’s not convincing the social conservatives he’s trying to woo with his flip-flopping on aid to Israel and his ambivalence about gay marriage.
He has a tendency to contradict himself in ways that are easily disprovable in this age of digital information. This is important because his task was always going to be exceedingly difficult to pull off. How to remain largely true to his principles without making himself unelectable because of the opposition within the Republican base to his ideas on foreign policy and social issues? To make something like that work, you have to be very slick and have an ability to really think on your feet. You have to make people like you and trust you to a point that they’re willing to overlook some of their disagreements with you on policy. Ronald Reagan was excellent at this kind of task. So far, Rand Paul is pretty horrible at it.
Personally, I think character has something to do with it. Truthfulness just isn’t part of his make-up. It’s not that he’s willing to be a little loose with the truth in the way politicians so often are; it’s that he doesn’t have a filter that tells him when he’s lying. I think he is sometimes genuinely surprised to discover that something he has just said is plainly and demonstrably false. Reagan seemed to suffer from the same fault from time to time, as when he told stories that weren’t real but had derived from some movie script Reagan had worked on or read. But Reagan’s gaffes (Iran-Contra aside) were generally affable mistakes rather than complete contradictions of his previous policy positions. Rand Paul will tell you he never opposed foreign aid to Israel with a straight face and then act surprised when he discovers that he needs to retract the statement.
In any case, he’s bombing in Iowa. He should probably just move on to New Hampshire and start over.