SWING VOTER

10.14.14 5:00 PM ET

Rand Paul's Bill Maher Problem

The famously liberal HBO host flirted with the idea of voting for the libertarian for president—until he looked at his whole record. That's going to happen to blacks and youth the senator hopes to court.

Rand Paul believes he can win the White House by attracting new voters to the Republican Party, but Bill Maher demonstrates why this is a fantasy.

The libertarian-leaning Republican is basing his likely presidential candidacy in large part on his ability to reach out to voters who don't traditionally cast their ballot for the GOP.

“Rand is positioned to be the conservative who can build a bigger, more inclusive Republican Party so we can win in 2016,” one of his advisers recently told Politico.

Paul's support for reforming America's drug laws and his staunch opposition to government surveillance will inspire young voters and African Americans to vote for him, the argument goes, while Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy will sell his candidacy to liberals who oppose President Obama's continuation of George W. Bush's war on terror.

To demonstrate the appeal of his message to young Americans, Paul traveled to the liberal hotbed of Berkeley, California earlier this year to speak to students at the University of California. According to reports, he received several standing ovations by railing against the government's surveillance programs. Last week he met with black leaders in Ferguson, Missouri two months after he called for the police there and across the country to be demilitarized.

But the reality is that Paul won't to be able to get Woodstock-sized loads of liberal Berkeley students into his coalition, in the unlikely event he actually wins the GOP nomination. While they may be attracted to his tirades against government spying, they are likely to be turned off by other aspects of his record.

Just look at comedian Bill Maher's short-lived flirtation with Paul. Maher isn’t a college liberal, but he is the type of left-winger Paul hopes to win over. Indeed, Maher even said he would consider voting for Paul if the 2016 presidential race came down to one between Hillary Clinton and the senator.

But in an interview with Salon published last week, Maher said he recently had drinks with Paul and that while he likes Paul’s foreign policy instincts, he now doesn't think he could vote for Paul because of his views on environmental issues.

“Well, his answer on the environment was wholly unsatisfactory to me,” Maher said about the meeting. “So, right on that issue, he would lose my vote.”

And so it will be with the other constituencies Paul supposedly appeals to on an issue or two.

While some outside the Republican tent on may cheer Paul's steps to ramp down the war on drugs, many of those very people will be turned off by Paul's vision for pairing down government spending. 

Take those young Berkeley liberals. They like Paul’s stance on civil liberties, but how do you think they will react when they, like Maher, learn about Paul’s stance on environmental issues, like global warming? Or, better yet, how do you think they will respond to the inevitable Democratic attack ad tying Paul's father’s bigoted newsletters to Paul's philosophical musings opposing part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to his hiring of a top staffer who famously wore a Confederate flag mas and celebrated the assassin of Abraham Lincoln in his past life as a radio shock jock?

I don't for a minute think Paul is racist. There is no reason he should be held liable for his father's newsletters and Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act on MSNBC when he was an unpolished Senate candidate were philosophically consistent with a libertarian view of what the government should and should not be involved in.  But politics is a tough business. It doesn't do nuance very well. These data points, along with his hiring of the "Southern Avenger," will help Democrats make Paul toxic to the very constituencies Paul has been nobly trying to bring into the Republican tent, such as young voters and African Americans.

Paul deserves a lot of credit for pushing the GOP in the right direction on issues like drug reform and for reaching out to minority communities too often ignored by the GOP. But the idea he is going to attract droves of non-traditional Republican supporters is nothing more than wishful thinking.