Rand Paul will not be President. He will not receive the Republican nomination. Though the Tea baggers create a lot of noise and have been somewhat successful on the local level, they were in essence created by the plutocracy. They've been convenient for the Koch brothers and their allies in creating issues for the President, but there is no way that the oligarchs are going to relinquish control of the Republican Party.
This does not mean that the Democrats are home free in 2016. I do not whether or not Hillary Clinton has a lock on the Democratic nomination. I hope not. I do know that she doesn't have a lock on the Presidency.
There are a couple of factors that I can see influencing the 2016 Presidential election.
The first is how the Republicans present themselves. This country won't elect a Rick Santorum, a Ted Cruz or some other nut job. They won't nominate Rand Paul. If the Republicans choose to run someone like that, the Democrats could run Kermit the Frog and win.
The second factor is whether or not the Democrats continue their neo-liberal ways. Despite the conventional wisdom here, Mrs. Clinton is not an automatic to become POTUS. We simply have to look back to 2000 to see that it would be foolish to underestimate the Republicans. Despite a comparatively stable economy, a supposed lightweight garnered enough votes to make the election close enough to steal.
If the Republicans nominate someone who appears reasonably sane, who doesn't self-destruct ala Romney, and if they reach out to the conservative segments of demographic blocs such as young people and Latinos, and if the Democrats nominate a DLCer like Mrs. Clinton and continue using the Third Way playbook, the Democrats could very well lose the White House in 2016.
There are Republicans who don't come off as insane. One is right here in Michigan - Rick Snyder. Unfortunately he will probably be re-elected as Governor of our state. He presents himself as a moderate. He is in favor of civil unions, a position that was similar to Mrs. Clinton's until last year. I can see him modifying his position if the political winds blow that way. He is pro-life but favors exceptions and he does not oppose stem cell research. He has favored anti-bullying legislation. Does he have progressive views on most of these issues? Of course not, but he doesn't care about our votes. All he needs to do is neutralize those issues and focus on the economy.
Mrs. Clinton's husband ran his first campaign on the theme, "It's the economy, stupid." Snyder focused on the economy in his first run, advertising himself as "One Tough Nerd", the nerdy smart guy with the business savvy to make the tough decisions to turn Michigan's economy around. He is running for re-election on the slogan, "The a Comeback Kid". Are we doing well here in Michigan? No, but the economic indicators used by the Snyder campaign are positive. One could argue that the entire country is slowly coming out of the Great Recession and that Michigan is simply coming along with everyone else. But Snyder will claim the credit and if he is re-elected, and especially if the Republicans retain control of both houses of the Michigan legislature, the GOP will use the results as vindication of their policies.
All this sets him up for Presidential run. He doesn't have the notoriety of a Scott Walker. Though his policies are similar, he has flown under the radar and avoided the controversy that Scott has engendered. He is as much of a supporter of ALEC legislation as any Republican. He is right at home with the one percent. He has given huge tax cuts to the wealthy. He has taken on the unions and won. He has put public educators on the defensive. He has placed Detroit under an Emergency Manager with near dictatorial powers. In the end, however, for most people the bottom line is the bottom line. If the perception is that the economy is improving, Snyder will be re-elected and become a potential Presidential candidate.
Snyder could run for President as the "Tough Nerd", the "Comeback Kid", who allegedly turned Michigan around and "created more than 220,000 private sector jobs".
Democrats don't have to worry about Rand Paul or a Mike Huckabee. They need to worry about a Rick Snyder or someone similar, one who appears "moderate" but who could be much more effective in implementing the ALEC agenda than his more reactionary colleagues.
The question is not whether Mrs. Clinton can defeat a Tea Party candidate. The question is whether a neo-liberal third way Democratic hawk can defeat a neo-liberal, ALEC supported Republican.