Coming into the 2016 Presidential elections, Rand Paul was supposed to be one of leading contenders. The man, who has been called the most interesting person in American politics, was supposed to force Republicans to hear a different point of view on everything from criminal justice reform to foreign policy. His path to the White House was supposed to combine these unorthodox views, along with a social media operation that was going to be second to none, to reach out to non-traditional Republican constituencies such as Millennials and win.
To say it has not worked out that way is an understatement. If you look at the Real Clear Politics polling average over the past 6 months, you notice that Rand Paul has generally trended in one direction, down. Only Marco Rubio has suffered a bigger fall from grace. When you look at the polls out of Iowa and New Hampshire, the former Paul was hoping to be competitive in and the latter is a must win, Paul is quickly becoming a non-factor.
I discussed some of the reasons why on the Red Bayou podcast this week. Part of it has that the oxygen around Rand Paul has been sucked out by the carnival barker Donald Trump on the GOP side and the socialist relic Bernie Sanders on the Democrat side. These two guys have gotten a lot of the “pissed off at everybody” vote and Millennial vote that Rand was counting on.
But the fault for the failing Rand Paul campaign lies mostly with the candidate and his campaign. Rand Paul has not run a very good campaign. There were a few instances since the weekend where he has demonstrated that.
This weekend, Paul was caught in a controversy where he appeared to call for restrictions on immigration from Muslim countries. The response from my libertarian friends was one of disgust and rightfully so if you go by the headline. Many of those trying to leave Muslim countries are coming here not to engage in jihad but to either escape it or worse. There are even many Christians among that group who simply want to practice their faith in peace. Finally, the U.S. government already screens those applying for visas from those nations.
A competent campaign would’ve been out front telling the truth on this, which is that the Breitbart headline was misleading at best. Paul only talked about “increased scrutiny” not actually restricting Muslim immigration. The responses didn’t come from the Paul campaign but instead was left to articles at The Libertarian Republic and Rare. A lot of the libertarians who were angry at Paul over this were left-leaning, open borders types and weren’t supporting him anyway, but it angered many in Paul’s base who were supporting him. This was an unforced error by the campaign.
Next was this abortion of a video yesterday:
This video was awful, failed to go viral, and was on the wrong issue. Tax reform is an issue better suited for 1996, not 2016. There aren’t enough Americans paying taxes for it to be enough of an issue. This is despite the fact that I like Rand’s tax plan.
If Lindsey Graham can make a video go viral and you can’t, you probably shouldn’t be in the race.
Finally, the latest example of stupidity from Paul came last night.
“I think military force always has to back up diplomacy,” Paul told radio host Mark Levin on Tuesday. “Diplomacy doesn’t work without military force behind it, and I think making that decision is a difficult decision, but ultimately yes you have to have military force that backs up the diplomatic negotiations that you have. We have to say that there has to be force as a backdrop to this.”
Paul told Levin he believed any decision made on Iran has to have “the best outcome” in mind. Paul said he thought an attack on Iran might delay them developing a nuclear weapon, but would actually allow them to develop a bomb faster in the long run.
Of the arguments to bomb Iran, this one might be the most unpersuasive yet. What good is bombing Iran going to do if it will help them a bomb faster in the long run? Will Paul commit to a likely necessary ground invasion of Iran in that scenario? This is also an argument that will be soundly rejected by Paul’s anti-war base.
Rand Paul has nothing to gain by trying to be the hawk in the race. Hawks do not either trust or like Rand Paul. Paul’s best bet on Iran was to be the adult in the room. Right now the one pulling it off is Jeb Bush.
All of this are symptoms of a campaign that is off message and is struggling for an identity. In a 16 person field, you must have a narrative and Rand Paul doesn’t have one at the moment. I agree with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie that Rand Paul needs to return to his bold, libertarian roots. That is Rand Paul’s only hope for victory.
Unless Paul does that, he will continue to embarrass himself on the national stage and destroy any hope he has of becoming an influential player in the Republican Party, let alone the next President.