In the long, drawn-out campaign season 2016 promises to be, there’s bound to be several reports on the “downfalls” of various candidacies.
Candidates can slip up and down in various polls, suffer personnel losses or have trouble finding the necessary dough to keep on running. It makes for good stories to give to a public that can’t get enough of election coverage.
However, these pitfalls are a normal part of presidential campaigns. John McCain had similar issues when he ran in 2008, which prompted numerous declarations that he was done for. As we all know, McCain went on to become the party’s nominee.
Right now, Rand Paul is enduring the troubles that are the curses of any campaign, regardless of how successful it ultimately turns out. But it still makes for a juicy story of a campaign in a “downward spiral,” as Politico phrased it in a Tuesday article.
Politico reported on the numerous headaches of Paul’s campaign and concluded it’s all an ominous sign for the Kentucky senator’s continued viability. He’s looking sluggish in the polls (which a separate Washington Post report confirmed). There’s low morale and in-fighting among campaign staffers. Paul is struggling to secure donors. He hates the toil of campaigning.
If that was all the problems Rand faced right now, he could reassure himself that several successful campaigns have overcome the same hurdles and turned out fine. Except there’s one problem of Paul’s that the prior campaigns of McCain and Gingrich didn’t have: he can’t get enough of a support base to sustain a successful candidacy.
As Politico suggests, Paul’s following isn’t enough to carry him to victory and his message is not resonating with Republican voters. For the guy who was supposed to be the fiery anti-establishment candidate, he has been completely outmatched in that category by one Donald J. Trump.
This development is interesting because Trump is the polar opposite of Paul in almost every respect — from the issues to rhetoric and even to personality.
Paul has focused on criminal justice reform, attacking the National Security Agency and instituting a flat tax. Trump harps on immigration, trade deals and national sovereignty. Paul likes to engage in wonkery. Trump loves verbal bombast. Paul comes across as an unassuming libertarian eye doctor. Trump is a flamboyantly authoritarian business mogul.
Additionally, Paul is one of the few Republicans who can expect positive, even adoring coverage from mainstream outlets. Mainstream outlets treat Trump as a cross between a circus clown and a modern-day George Wallace.
Unfortunately for Rand though, his would-be supporters appear to be favoring a man who is everything the eye doctor is not. He’s no longer the “most interesting man in politics” in a field full of gadflys.
While a flat tax may have some currency with the GOP base, criminal justice reform and reining in spies aren’t that popular among Republican voters. And when it comes to curtailing the NSA’s surveillance program, they actually support keeping it intact by a comfortable margin.
More importantly, these are not the issues that inspire grassroots conservatives and gets them to the polls. Trump’s issues are. The grassroots is also not taken in by Paul’s wonky, “fresh” approach. They want Trump’s brash attacks on hated leaders and combative spirit. They’re skeptical of the junior senator’s abstract proposals, but they like the mogul’s promise to use state power to solve the country’s problems.
Not only has Paul adopted the less-appealing issues, but he’s also wavered and flip-flopped on several issues dear to conservative voters. On immigration, voter identification, Middle East policy and a few others, Paul has said contradictory things which leave voters wondering where he actually stands. He’s even made bizarre comments about abortion — an issue the base demands a pro-life position on — that could easily be used by an opponent to skewer the libertarian as out-of-touch with the average Republican.
These contradictory statements do not inspire confidence in the core voting demographics of the GOP.
Then again, a part of Paul’s appeal was his promise to bring in new groups into the Republican fold. He said he could bring in young people. He said he could draw in minority voters — particularly within the African-American community. He said he could get independent voters in droves.
But on all of these accounts, Paul is not fulfilling his promises. With the youth, he holds no edge. With African-Americans, he boasts single-digit support in comparison with potential Democrat challengers to his Senate seat — and that’s in spite of a major outreach effort. With independents, as National Review’s Kevin Williamson pointed out, this demographic will probably shun the Kentucky senator once they learn more about his agenda.
What most of the hoopla surrounding Paul honed in on was his supposed ability to expand his constituency beyond his father’s devoted followers. While Rand Paul doesn’t seem to alienate large swaths of Republican voters like Ron Paul did in 2008 and 2012, the son is still not convincing a significant majority to cast their ballots in his name.
Rand Paul has also managed to alienate his father’s core following. As Rand tries to separate himself from Ron on foreign policy and other issues, he’s reduced his appeal among the dedicated group of activists that made the elder Paul a noteworthy candidate in 2012.
In spite of the headlines that say otherwise, neither the Republican Party nor the country is having a libertarian moment. As evidenced by their poll numbers and large crowds they draw, the messages of Trump and Bernie Sanders are what’s resonating with the American public. Instead of a libertarian moment, we’re having a populist moment.
Paul seems unable to latch onto this rising sentiment. His rhetoric isn’t resonating with established Republican voters and isn’t bringing the promised new blood into the fold.
Rand’s fundamental problem isn’t his lack of money or dwindling morale. It’s simply his message.