What Just Happened? A Postmortem on the Paul Campaign

Rand Paul

Paul Campaign Faced Many Hurdles, Difficult Situations

by Josh Guckert

Beginning in 2013, Rand Paul was considered to be one of the favorites to win the Republican nomination. However, after one presidential contest in which he came in fifth, he announced today that his 2016 aspirations are over. The move is after months of negative press about his efforts.

So what changed in the last few years? How did Rand Paul go from being the Most Interesting Man in Politics to being an also-ran? While plenty of people will point to a lackluster campaign structure or a poor candidacy, this truly isn’t the case.

In short, circumstances conspired against the Kentucky Senator. First, ISIS rose to power in the Middle East (ironically because of the very policies Paul warns about), thus leading a once war-weary nation and Republican Party back into its post-9/11 mindset. From the very start of his campaign, Paul was branded an “isolationist,” much like his father.

Another important factor is that an unprecedented 17 different candidates entered the fray, making it very difficult for any one person to gain media traction. Particularly with cable news and internet coverage in many ways determining who was in the “top tier,” it quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy that many got lost in the shuffle.

This point was only exacerbated by the emergence of Donald Trump, who monopolized media coverage unlike any candidate in American history. In addition, it is worth noting that Trump, despite his lack of libertarian senses, appealed to many former Ron Paul supporters due to his grassroots and populist inclinations. Though it had been believed that Ron Paul had solidified a “libertarian moment,” the greater likelihood is that he caught people’s eyes due to anger and his unorthodox manner in addressing issues. The “mad as Hell” caucus, once strongly in Ron Paul’s favor, now saw an adequate fit in Trump.

Two other candidates who drew from Rand Paul’s desired coalition are Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. With Rand Paul being a fairly different kind of Republican due to his libertarian leanings, he needed to be able to persuade anyone who was not necessarily libertarian, but had some libertarian sympathies. When Ted Cruz entered the race, he staked out the middle-ground between Paul and the Republican base, in many ways cutting off the air that Paul needed to connect with new voters.

As for Sanders, he appealed to a populist movement much like Trump, but in a much different direction. For example, Sanders receives praise for taking stands on issues that matter to youth, like ending unnecessary wars and reforming the War on Drugs, all issues on which Paul has also taken stands. Particularly in open primaries, Sanders (seen as much more competitive in a two-person race) used this to lure younger people and activists to support him. If there were no Sanders, there is a high possibility that Paul could have swung some to vote Republican for the first time.

With all of these above subgroups being courted by others, Paul was left only with the most staunch ideological libertarians, minus those who are so principled in their beliefs that they do not even vote, as they see it as an act of aggression. Another issue besides a belief in abstinence when it comes to voting is that it seems that, more than with any other group, libertarians are quick to disown candidates given any apparent straying from principled lines. As Paul attempted to broaden his base, any semblance of a lack of adherence to pure libertarianism was seen as heresy.

One last note is that it seems to be almost near-consensus that Paul failed to outdo his father, but this idea may be misguided. The two men’s campaigns symbolized completely different images: in Rand’s case, he was running to win; therefore, he needed to gather votes and win elections. He had a much lower basement but a far higher ceiling. As seen with Scott Walker and others, some of the only candidates with genuine chances at the nomination end their campaigns early rather than running meaningless races.

As for Ron, he cared very little for winning; his campaign was about getting out a message. While his 2012 performances in Iowa and New Hampshire (receiving 22% each in a fairly small field) are admirable, one must wonder if, in order to win such totals, he also had to yield any real possibility of winning the nomination. While Ron’s supporters may also remember him remaining in the race until the bitter end, this too was only due to style, as after finishing in fourth (last) in Florida and South Carolina, most candidates with a realistic chance would have likely withdrawn.

This is certainly not to denigrate Ron Paul’s contributions, but rather to suggest that the two candidacies are not comparable.

It is a difficult day for liberty, but one which we can use to learn. Rand Paul is a great man and a great US Senator, and we are all fortunate to have him as a representative of our Republic.

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