Have you read about the latest Rand Paul scandal? In a shocking move that is baffling pundits, the Kentucky senator is differentiating himself from the other candidates. This is apparently unheard-of. The Wall Street Journal editorialized today that "Republicans who begin their campaigns assailing other Republicans rarely succeed," which if nothing else is a novel theory about how presidential primaries work. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote this week that Paul "is clearly separating himself from the rest of the GOP," an observation that ran not under the headline "Candidate gives disgruntled Republicans reasons to vote for him" but "The decline of Rand Paul."
Here's a different theory: By going back on the offensive on foreign policy and civil liberties—most notably, by pointing out the Bush Republicans' role in creating a space for ISIS to flourish—Paul is highlighting his views on issues that divide his party, giving sympathetic voters a reason to support him. Crazy, I know.
Will this get him the nomination? I wouldn't bet on it, but I doubt even more strongly that he could win by remaking himself as a clone of the other candidates. Remember, a substantial number of GOP voters are fed up with the Bush Republicans' foreign policy. With the very limited exception of Ted Cruz, Paul is pretty much the only candidate trying to speak for them in any way stronger than grudgingly admitting that the Iraq war didn't go well. And while Republican hawks may be more numerous than Republican doves, they also have around 200 candidates splitting their vote.
Rand Paul's father wouldn't have gotten as far as he did if he hadn't taken a stand in South Carolina that turned every other candidate on stage against him. The younger Paul is framing his critique of U.S. foreign policy much more cautiously than his dad did, and he's doing it at a time when the average Republican voter is more open to such ideas than he was in 2007. A campaign with such themes may or may not win Paul the nomination. But at least it gives him a reason to be running in the first place.