Rand Paul is not shy about his presidential ambitions. While he claims it's not a sure thing that he will run, there is little that would stop him at this point. So, could he actually win? He'd have a better shot than you might think.
Rand Paul told Politico that he is "seriously" considering a run for President in 2016. Translation: unless he is caught having sex with someone not his wife, or his wife decides that it would tear up their family (something he discusses in the interview) Rand Paul is running for President.
"I think we could use something new, fresh and different," said Paul, explaining, quite rightly, that Republicans are now thought of as the party for the rich, and while they are quite strong in certain states, they get little traction on the west coast or New England.
This is something less than shocking. Paul thought about running in 2012 (fresh off his Tea Party fueled Senate victory in 2010), but he wasn't going to go up against his father, Ron Paul, who did run. With Ron Paul stepping away from public office, the path is clear for Rand Paul to make a run, something he hinted at shortly after Obama was reelected.
So, could he win? Let's first look at Paul's chances to win the Republican nomination: they're better than you might think.
Paul would likely be going up against a tough field of Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and possibly Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Bob McDonnell (and we're sure to get a wild card or two, a la Herman Cain). Rand Paul's challenge would be to maintain his substantial Tea Party love, while taking in some of the more mainstream Republican vote. If he can become the far-right Republican of choice for evangelicals in Iowa, and have Rubio, Bush and Ryan split up the mainstream vote, he could take Iowa.
Next up is New Hampshire, where Paul could turn on his libertarian charm for the state that puts "Live free or die" on its license plates. He might be seen as too far to the right for New Hampshire Republicans (it's nearly impossible to be too far right for Iowa Republicans), but again, the mainstream vote could split, with Chris Christie pushing all of his chips in on New Hampshire and Bush and Rubio trying to play everywhere.
A strong showing in those two states could position Paul well to place at or near the top in South Carolina, which, like Iowa, has a very conservative base of Republicans.
That's more or less the dream scenario for Paul. It's hard to imagine him doing well in Florida, but the Republican Party is essentially two factions right now, which we can loosely name "the Tea Party" and "the mainstream." If Paul can win the Tea Party and have the mainstream still in dispute going into Super Tuesday, he has a shot at the nomination.
Could he win a national election? A President Paul? It's possible: winning the nomination would mean he had already run an excellent campaign, but Paul's far-right stance on social issues might cancel out his potential advantage from his positions on shrinking the defense department and reducing the war on drugs, positions that are generally popular, but most candidates don't take due to fears about angering their donors.
Paul is probably too conservative to win a general election, but his most ardent supporters rather famously don't care about that. It would also be very entertaining, and redefine the Republican party in a productive way.