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The mainstreaming of Rand Paul

When Rand Paul was announced as the winner of the Republican presidential straw poll at CPAC over the weekend, there was no chorus of boos from the assembled conservatives, a far cry from the response when his father won the same event a few years ago. Unlike Ron Paul, whose political coalition existed as much outside the Republican Party as in it and whose numerous straw poll victories were the product of organized event-crashing that irritated party regulars, Rand has dedicated himself to becoming a force within the GOP -- and CPAC '13 represents the latest evidence that he's succeeding.

The instinct to compare the two Paul's is natural. They largely share the same quirky libertarianism, and when Ron stepped out of politics after his third and final presidential campaign last year, it seemed like he was handing off the movement he started to his son. But Ron Paul probably isn't the best point of reference for understanding where Rand Paul fits in today's Republican universe, and the role he could play in the years to come. A more interesting comparison might be found in the career of Robert A. Taft, the leader of a mid-20th Century conservative movement that was anchored by many of the basic tenets of Paul-ism.

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