First, the good news for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: he is gaining on former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 presidential match-up.
Now, the bad news: Paul is behind some other contenders in support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and his standing in the tea-party wing of the Republican Party has eroded considerably. […]
Clinton leads former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush 48 percent to 41 percent, tops New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 47 percent to 41 percent, and has a 48 percent to 42 percent advantage over Paul.
A Marist Poll in April showed Clinton with a 14-point lead over Paul, an 11-point lead over Christie and a 16-point lead over Bush. […]
Among tea-party Republicans, Paul enjoyed 20 percent support in Marist's April poll. Now, that has plunged to 7 percent. The new tea party leader is Cruz, at 15 percent, up from 6 percent in April.
Assessing these numbers, the Washington Post's Aaron Blake concludes that "It's time to stop calling Rand Paul a tea partier." Excerpt:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the most interesting man (or woman) in the Republican Party today. He is known as a staunch conservative on fiscal issues, but he's working with Democrats on criminal sentencing reform. He woos religious conservatives in Iowa, but he also flirts with a more libertarian stance on social issues. And as unrest continues in Ferguson, Paul said something no other Republicans are saying: That the "militarization" of police is harmful to African Americans. […]
While Paul is certainly aligned with the tea party on a lot of stuff, the label doesn't describe him as well as it does someone like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). An op-ed Paul wrote Thursday in Time magazine was just the latest example of that. The things Paul said in it are not the kind of things you would expect from a tea partier. […]
The trouble with Paul is that no well-known labels seem to fit him well. While his dad, Ron Paul, is a pretty straight-line libertarian, that's not really who the younger Paul is. He's not an establishment Republican, a neo-conservative, an arch-conservative or a moderate Republican.
We still don't know what label would be better than "tea party," but it's becoming clearer and clearer that this label doesn't really fit. Maybe he's just a Rand Paul Republican.
While I agree with Blake that the term "Tea Party" is largely amorphous these days, it may be premature to banish the author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington from the descriptor just yet. As I suggested in my June 2011 cover essay, "The Most Interesting Man in the Senate," part of Paul's project is to shape and define the Tea Party as being essentially anti-interventionist, in all senses of the term. That project is obviously ongoing, though he's arguably further along than he was three years ago, despite that recent poll-slippage. (I would also roughly sort the Tea Party blob into two camps: ideological [like Paul] and comportmental [like Ted Cruz].)
As for the best definition of Rand Paul's politics, I'd just go with something like "pragmatic libertarian Republican." With "pragmatic" indicating that–unlike his dad–he's actually running for president to win, and looking for legislative solutions within the constraints of modern Washington, as opposed to operating on a more consistently philosophical/symbolic level. The "Republican" modifier also meaning that, just like all the other GOP members of the "Liberty Movement," Paul is strongly anti-abortion and personally conservative, while de-emphasizing (on every issue except abortion) the federal government's role in acting on those beliefs.
Watch Nick Gillespie's recent interview with Rand Paul below the jump: