After a dismal showing in Iowa, Rand Paul is dropping out of the presidential race to focus on his Senate reelection campaign.
Paul had high hopes to coalesce the libertarian wing of the party with a more conservative alliance toward the White House, but as with everyone else’s campaign, it all went to hell when Donald Trump entered the race. Paul was averaging 9-10% in national polls in May and June, until Trump announced and sucked the air out of the race, dropping him down to below 4-5% for the remainder of the campaign.
Although his name recognition was one factor, Trump also exposed a rift within the libertarian faction of the right that helped torpedo Paul’s campaign. Going back to the Ron Paul newsletter days, there has always been a xenophobic nationalist bloc on the right that calls itself “libertarian” but really isn’t. They used to be Paul supporters, both Ron and Rand, but once Trump barged in and explicitly embraced their unfettered id, they quickly jumped ship.
And all the better. Although it won’t help an actual libertarian get elected, it’s better to know who our actual ideological compatriots are than limp along under false pretenses with people who don’t actually care about liberty.
Trumpkins weren’t the only problem with Paul’s campaign, though. While he called himself a libertarian Republican, Rand was far more conservative than his father Ron. Although he called for ending the War on Drugs, he never fully embraced legalization.
He also leaned far too heavily on social conservatives to try to build a bigger coalition than his father, muddling the liberty message on marriage and even defending Kim Davis’ dereliction of duty. Instead of creating such a coalition, these moves turned off his libertarian base, further winnowing his support.
Despite these missteps and pitfalls, Rand Paul’s campaign was a unique and worthwhile one. He was the strongest (though tellingly, the aurally softest) voice in the party on the crucial issues of privacy, criminal justice reform, and racial equality. He will be a vital voice in the US Senate for a long time…unless someone makes him a VP candidate.