February 8, 2016
By any normal standard, Rand Paul ran a disappointing campaign. When you poll in the national top tier 9 to 12 months ahead of actual voting and then drop out after Iowa, that’s a disappointment. When you perform noticeably worse than your father did in the previous cycle, that’s a disappointment.
Most analysis (and there isn’t that much of it in total, testament to the limited impact Rand made) is suggesting the appetite for a non-interventionist Republican was less than previously believed. The secondary reason given (one I’ve participated in) is that he was overshadowed by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders among others.
Some people point out he just wasn’t a great presidential candidate. He wasn’t. For those in the Liberty Movement, having Paul strike out so quickly this year is particularly frustrating. In a world where both Sanders and Trump are leading in New Hampshire, are libertarians hopelessly outnumbered by democratic socialists and populists?If you want to take the pessimistic look, you’ll note Bernie wants more government control over the economy, higher taxes, more federal involvement in higher education, and a host of items antithetical to libertarians. Given Rand’s plan to win over many of those youthful Berners, is a whole generation lost?
Rand was also depending on long-time registered Republicans and Independents who were equally disgusted with Bush 43 and Obama policies. It turns out these voters have something in common with millennials. They are both very open to a variety of solutions.
The success of Sanders and Trump does not show a libertarian approach is destined to fail. It helps display the range of potentially acceptable directions. Paul and those who took his candidacy seriously were correct to think he could build a new coalition.
Both Bernie and The Donald brag about pulling in voters from outside the party. Each says they can compete in the general election as a result. Rand has a far more consistent record of conservatism than Trump. The math was there.
The commitment was not. Bernie Sanders is all in. He’s 74-years-old and does not face re-election in Vermont. If he was facing a vote, his campaign isn’t pushing him in a direction that would make it harder for him to retain office. At this point Bernie is an institution in Vermont.
Trump has spent years thinking long and hard about a run for the presidency. He’s mentioned his hesitation prior to taking the final step. The Rubicon was crossed the minute he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower in June.
It’s not like Trump or Sanders were going to find themselves more viable next time. Nobody was clamoring for them to participate this time. On the eve of Trump’s announcement, he was in low single-digits nationally, similar to where Bernie started.
Low expectations. Nothing to lose. Beholden to none. Highly developed personas. Those are four things Bernie and Trump have that Paul didn’t. Of the three, Rand was the only candidate taken seriously by the mainstream media. Time put him on the cover in 2014 with an eye toward his 2016 prospects.
Rand did have something to lose. His father built noticeable grass roots support during his 2008 and 2012 presidential runs. If he waited until 2020 or 2024, there was the definite chance someone else would swoop in and grab the attention of those voters and volunteers. We saw it happen underneath his nose in 2015, waiting would have guaranteed it.
He also found himself trying to serve two masters. His dad’s legacy was one. Supporters would measure him against the original item. That’s fair. Ron Paul was the candidate who inspired him. He ran last cycle. This isn’t like trying to decide if Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio measure up to Ronald Reagan 36 years after he was elected.
The other was the GOP establishment. Donald Trump may get nominated and win the general election. Ted Cruz may get nominated and win the general election. Who knows, we might even see a winning Trump/Cruz ticket. Nothing in 2016 would shock me.
If either is nominated, it will be the first time since 1964 that Republicans pick someone over the extreme protests of the elected officials of the party. Depending on how well he can continue to get people like Bob Dole to say he’s a lesser evil than Cruz, Trump might not even fit as an exception.
As we get reminded every four years when a strongly conservative candidate is running, Barry Goldwater was annihilated in 1964. The last Republican president to have the establishment in full revolt was Teddy Roosevelt. Rand Paul is a smart guy. He’s got plenty of historical perspective. He had reason to believe he needed some insiders to sign off on him.
That’s a tough balance for any politician to pull off. Trying to keep members of the Ron Paul Revolution on board while you endorse Mitch McConnell in his primary election is a feat. You run the risk of angering the partisans while failing to convince insiders you’re completely housebroken.
Only the most skillful and experienced political actor could pull this off, and it’s questionable in the social media fueled 2010s that anyone can. Rand Paul is not an experienced politician. His first run for public office was his 2010 Senate campaign.
His public persona is not completely developed. Until 2010 he was a politically engaged doctor who happened to be the son of a libertarian icon. Bernie Sanders knows exactly what his pitch is. So does Donald Trump. Ron Paul does too. Rand is getting there.
Even if he wanted to or was able to fast-track his evolution, there’s still the matter of his Senate seat. Rand didn’t put his medical practice on hold to serve one term. He believes his voice is an important contrast in D.C. Given the shortage of others with his platform, he’s not imagining this.
A larger-than-life (which isn’t really Rand’s thing anyway) persona might help on the presidential campaign trail, but doesn’t convince Kentucky voters their senator is interested in representing them for the long-haul. Go too far to become Presidential Rand and you might find yourself politically unemployed. As it is, his re-election isn’t a sure thing.
We haven’t even talked about money yet. Mainstream Rand won out over grass roots Paul when the campaign built their financial strategy. The campaign did not invest in the type of individual donations and small donors that Ben Carson, Cruz, and Sanders have taken advantage of.
The above candidates used very different techniques (Carson’s were out of the 1980s), but each put a huge emphasis on building an army of small donors. Despite his dad’s success in this area, Rand went more PAC-centric like some of the more establishment-friendly candidates. It was a mistake.
He wound up with less big money than the candidates more suited for it, and way less individual donor money than the insurgents. His funding fell between the cracks, much like the candidacy itself.
More than anything, he was plagued by not believing he had to win in 2016, but also not thinking he could sit this one out. Rubio passed on running for re-election. Cruz knows this is probably his best shot. Rand likely went in thinking he needed to make sure he was still viable in 2020 and 2024.
There are plenty of strong movement conservatives in the Senate. If Cruz and Rubio strike out and are unable to make another run themselves in the future, someone else will step up. It might be Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, who knows. There are others where they came from.
There’s only one Rand Paul. In trying to conserve himself for the future, he guaranteed he needs to hope for an opportunity in the future.