Why did Rand Paul forsake his dad Ron Paul for Mitt Romney?

Sen. Ran Paul endorsed Mitt Romney for president this week, even though his father Ron Paul has not formally dropped out of the race. Publicly backing Romney at this point – though it’s left many libertarians steaming – could help him in the long run.

John Wright/The Paducah Sun/AP
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who endorsed the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney this week, hosts a town hall meeting Jan. 11 in Murray, Ky.

Why did Rand Paul forsake his dad Ron Paul for Mitt Romney?

Well, perhaps “forsake” is too strong a word. We’re not talking about political patricide here, nothing remotely Oedipal. They’re both still on the libertarian fringe of the Republican Party, like-minded on the issues their brand of conservatism cares about.

But Rand Paul, the freshman US Senator from Kentucky, did endorse presumptive GOP presidential nominee Romney over his father, the US Congressman (and party gadfly) from Texas. And it’s caused quite a stir within the Libertarian Party, which laments the younger Paul’s “betrayal” of his father’s principles.

“No true libertarian, no true friend of liberty, and no true blue Tea Partier could possibly even consider, much less actually endorse or approve of, the Father of Obamacare, Big Government tax and spender, Republican Mitt Romney,” the Libertarian Party exclaimed on its website Friday.

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What really gripes Libertarians is that when he ran for the US Senate, “many of his fund-raising appeals were sent to the donors and supporters of his father…. designed to convince Ron’s supporters that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That Rand was, like his legendary father, a steadfast champion of liberty.”

Although he’s no longer actively campaigning, Ron Paul emailed supporters this week acknowledging that he won’t have enough delegates to win the nomination. But he has yet to formally pull out of the race, and he still wants to have a presence at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., in August – perhaps as a featured speaker or influencing the party's platform. That’s why he continues to gather whatever delegates he can.

Although some of his ardent supporters hold out the possibility of a miracle in Tampa, Rep. Paul has told them to behave there, and he reportedly has a friendly personal relationship with Romney.

So for both Pauls, it makes sense that at some point, Rand Paul was going to have to ease toward the party establishment regarding the presidential race – whether or not his father ever endorses Romney.

Here’s how Sen. Paul put his Romney endorsement on Fox News the other night: “You know, my first choice had always been my father. I campaigned for him when I was 11 years old. He's still my first pick. But you know, now that the nominating process is over, I'm happy to announce that I'm going to be supporting Governor Romney.”

It makes a lot of sense politically.

Ron Paul is nearing the end of what has been a remarkable period representing ideas and issues that don’t generate a lot of consistent enthusiasm among Republican leaders – hammering the Federal Reserve, fighting government intrusion on personal privacy, avoiding virtually all foreign military engagements, denying massive financial support for foreign countries, including Israel.

Rand Paul is at the beginning of what could well be a remarkable career as well, and publicly backing Romney at this point – though it’s left many libertarians steaming – could help him in the long run.

“While Paul is a helpful validator for Romney, endorsing Romney also gives Paul a level of mainstream credibility he lacked during his 2010 Senate campaign,” writes Alexander Burns at Politico.com. “It shows he’s willing to be a team player when it counts, and puts him on the safe side of any speculation over a third-party libertarian push. And that could be crucially important for Paul if he decides to seek the White House himself in 2016 or beyond – as any number of operatives believe he hopes to do.”

As one Republican strategist told Burns: “Rand’s endorsement of GOP nominee Mitt Romney clearly shows that in spite of those who try to marginalize him, he has a keen set of political instincts and is very much aware that a successful national run will require more than just his father’s loyal following.”

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