Rand Paul is basically doomed: How the man who was supposed to "reinvent" the GOP fell flat on his face

It wasn't too long ago that Rand Paul was viewed as a serious threat to the GOP nomination. Not any longer

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 3, 2015 6:59PM (EDT)

Rand Paul                                     (AP/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Rand Paul (AP/Lauren Victoria Burke)

One of the big mysteries of the Koch brothers' lavish gala this past weekend is the fact that Rand Paul was not in attendance. You'd think that the Kochs would at least insist that Paul come to the fete to do a dramatic reading of John Galt's "Atlas Shrugged" speech for the billionaires in attendance, but he didn't show. Some reports suggest that he was invited, but declined. Perhaps his feelings are hurt that they also invited Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and even Carly Fiorina, when he believes that he should have been anointed by all the rich men in the world by acclamation. He is, after all, the One True Libertarian of the bunch.

Or is he? Paul has been spending so much time in recent days talking about the horrors of Planned Parenthood, you'd think he was a Catholic priest or a member of Ralph Reed's Bible study group. In fact, both of the Pauls, father and son, have always played fast and loose with their libertarian principles when it comes to reproductive health; the only individual property right they don't recognize is a woman's ownership of her own body. Since the followers of the Pauls tend to be those who find such concerns irrelevant to their own freedom -- being that they are mostly young, white males -- that may make some sense from a practical standpoint. Rand has to build a coalition with someone, so why not the religious right, since their main concern in life is keeping women in their place, and the Paulites seem to find this to be a position they can work with.

And so it is becoming clear that for all the former Beltway excitement over Paul's alleged magical ability to transform the Republican Party from it's aggressively hawkish global ambitions and theocratic, authoritarian domestic aspirations into an isolationist, tolerant, pluralistic party, he just can't seem to make any headway. He can't raise much money and nobody, it turns out, is very interested in his ideas.

Thus, the true believers are depressed. One of them wrote a piece for Politico about what's gone wrong, titled, "Why I'm tired of defending Rand Paul." The piece was written by Jonathan Bydlak, someone who's been with the Paul family for years, serving as director of fundraising on Ron's 2008 campaign; a loyal lieutenant who truly believes that Rand Paul could be president. But unfortunately for Bydlak, it turns out that Rand Paul also believes that, which means that these days he's acting like just another Republican.

Bydlak writes:

After months of skepticism of U.S. involvement in Syria and Iraq, Rand Paul called for airstrikes—authorized by Congress. He later sought to “declare war” on ISIL and put boots on the ground. He’s done a complete 180 on the threat from Iran, signing the Tom Cotton letter opposing the recent nuclear deal. And while being one of the more nuanced voices opposing the deal, he’s still relied on the sort of fear mongering and misleading rhetoric his father rejected.

Ron Paul proudly thumbed his nose at Republican orthodoxy, fearlessly voicing his beliefs no matter how hated his position might make him among the GOP. His son, of course, cannot win a primary by following that exact model. But he has failed to make the Republican base trust him, while risking losing his own.

He said gay marriage “offends” him, and called for tent revivals to combat America’s “moral crisis” while simultaneously supporting ending marriage licenses altogether. He supports lowering sentences for drug offenses, and is publicly courting the marijuana industry, while very consistently making clear he opposes legalization. And in recent weeks, he’s gone so far as to apparently jump onto the Trump bandwagon in seeking to defund “sanctuary cities.”

He spent months reaching out to minority communities and branding himself as a “different kind of Republican” on police brutality and criminal justice reform—but when Baltimore was burning following Freddie Gray’s suspicious death in police custody, Paul couldn’t have been more tone deaf, scoffing how glad he was his “train didn’t stop” in Baltimore, and offering what seemed to be 1990s-era Moral Majority musings on the downfall of the family.

Now, it's hard to have pity for this fellow. While Paul may be out there talking about "outreach" to African Americans and Hispanics, his views on race have never exactly been obscure. Up until last year, he employed someone known as "The Southern Avenger" in his inner circle. But you do have to feel a little bit of sympathy for him about the rest of it. The incoherence on foreign policy and national security is downright dizzying coming from the man who made his national reputation delivering scorching speeches against the drone war and NSA surveillance. He couldn't even bring himself to defy freshman warmonger Tom Cotton and refuse to sign on to that daft Iran letter. And refusing to support marijuana legalization even as the country is moving rapidly in that direction is as cowardly as it gets. If a libertarian can't even stand up for the stoners, you have to wonder if he has any rationale for his campaign at all.

Still, reports have surfaced that a Super PAC is going to form an "army" in Iowa to help Paul get out the vote in those caucuses, which is something the Paul apparatus has proven adept at doing in the past. They are paying organizers to collect info on Iowa voters, a way of assuring donors that Paul has some shot at winning, so they'll start writing some of those big checks -- which have thus far not materialized:

The strategy of Concerned American Voters -- and its complication for the main Paul campaign -- was borne out in this month's FEC reports. While the super PAC cannot coordinate with Paul, it could in theory communicate with America's Liberty PAC. There had been hope of jointly releasing the AL and CAV numbers this week, to reveal a total of $5.1 million in outside money for Paul. Instead, CAV's totals are coming after a spate of negative stories based on what National Journal called "the smallest sum of the 10 Republican super PACs to reveal their fundraising figures so far."

Concerned American Voters is trying to open the wallets of donors who might find those stories... well, concerning. Its FEC report will reveal a donation from Silicon Valley angel investor Scott Banister. Whole Foods founder John Mackey has also reportedly chipped in. Donors are told that Concerned American Voters will avoid any media spending, and use tactics pioneered by insurgent Republican campaigns to wire Iowa in advance of the caucuses. They also assure donors that they will not waste effort on contacting voters already won over by the Paul campaign.

This GOP campaign is drowning in money but the free market, no-tax, no-regulation libertarian that is Rand Paul can't seem to raise any money. In fact, they're already claiming it's an "insurgent" campaign, concentrating on the "ground game." How the mighty have fallen.

The truth is that Paul never had a chance at the nomination and he was never going to transform the Republican Party, regardless of the Beltway's silly ignorance of what GOP voters care about. Republicans, by and large, are not libertarians, except when it comes to hating taxes, regulations and government programs that help poor people. On every other issue they are authoritarian, crony capitalist and hawkish. And they are currently demonstrating that what really turns them on is idiotic demagoguery from a billionaire clown named Donald Trump. Paul's Senate theatrics are like watching late-night vacuum cleaner infomercials by comparison.

Rand Paul, unlike his father, did not run to educate the public or make a political point. He actually believed the beltway hype and decided he could win. That was a foolish error. He's lost his own base and it's going to be hard for him to get it back.

Libertarian Justin Raimondo delivered the coup de grace after Paul clumsily tried to finesse his hawkish position on the Iran agreement:

The “libertarian-ish” Senator from Kentucky is just another Ted Cruz, albeit less loud (and with less book sales) than the Canadian performance artist-cum-politician.

If only. That ridiculous performance artist Ted Cruz has vastly out raised Paul in the billionaire sweepstakes.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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