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The Rise and Fall of Rand Paul... Can He Recover?

Created: 29 September, 2015
Updated: 18 October, 2022
3 min read

Rand Paul, once considered the GOP’s savior after two grueling presidential election losses, has fallen on some hard times.

Paul was labelled by the media as a front-runner or top-tier candidate months before he officially entered the presidential race on April 7. Now nearly at the 6-month mark, the early stages of the Republican presidential primary changed the game and showed some chinks in Paul’s armor.

Paul had two remarkable filibusters to blast drone use and NSA spying, stances that bucked the party line and made him popular with voters across the political spectrum. He was also the one Republican in the Senate who would work with Democrats like U.S. Sen. Cory Booker on criminal justice reform.

His message and record could appeal to a broader bloc of voters outside the Republican Party, and many people believed Paul would enlarge the GOP tent by doing what no other candidate was doing -- reaching across the aisle and being authentic.

Unfortunately, that success did not last long and it was not because

Donald Trump entered the race. There were other intrinsic problems in the Kentucky senator’s campaign.

Rand Paul has some of the libertarian-leanings of his father, Ron Paul, and to that effect faces the uphill battle of breaking into the party’s establishment wing. However, his efforts to appeal to the outsider crowd that supported his father and mainstream Republicans hasn't won him much support on either side.

Paul shifted his message some, voted to increase military spending, and pushed aside some of the more non-interventionist foreign policy positions adopted by his father. The LA Times called this Rand Paul 2.0, but as the Times pointed out, it had little appeal.

Paul was forced to pivot again. However, a candidate can’t continually pivot between groups of supporters lest some of those groups lose interest and leave. Along with diminished support, this has also hurt his fundraising numbers, which could have been different if Paul had made it a top priority.

When it comes to attracting billionaire donors, Paul has had some interaction with the likes of Peter Thiel, who financially backed Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign. That interaction supposedly dipped since Paul started his campaign.

The Koch brothers invited Paul to an event in California that could have been a great place to showcase Paul’s stance for small government. He declined as he did with another event in Silicon Valley after saying he would attend. That last one was declined so he could take his family on vacation to Florida.

The pivot back to grassroots after big-money donors failed to materialize could prove a double edged sword. A marijuana industry fundraiser in Colorado with a $2,700 entrance fee showed Paul was willing to go into uncharted territory at the potential expense of angering present-day mainstream Republicans.

On an electoral level, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon could swing more toward Paul if he stays in the race long enough. These types of positions go well with the libertarian ideology of keeping big government out of personal lives.

IVN independent author Carl Wicklander pointed out how much of an impact the debates could have on Paul’s campaign, referencing a 2008 debate skirmish between Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani over the Iraq War and terrorism. Rand’s big moment in the August 6 debate came when he traded words with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the NSA surveillance program.

That fiery performance showed off Paul’s idealistic personality, but did not do much with his poll numbers. He was lucky if he received numbers in the high single digits. Now, he is hovering around last place in the polls -- a fact Trump threw in his face during the second debate.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. Fortunately for the Kentucky senator, there is a bright spot in the future. Paul did win a Michigan straw poll last week among GOP activists with 16%. Trump, who did not attend, only garnered 6.8%.

In the past, the media has placed the Kentucky senator and his moderate libertarian ideology on a higher pedestal in the GOP’s intra-party squabbles. That same ideology bridged many partisan issues, but that shows Paul may have more influence in the Senate chambers than in the Oval Office.

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