When Rand Paul entered the GOP presidential race, he sought to stitch together a distinct coalition: his father’s fiercely loyal libertarian supporters, millennials, and others new to Republican politics whom he hoped to draw with his provocative stances on privacy and marijuana laws.
Six months later, none of that is working. Paul is a low single-digit blip in the polls. He barely meets the threshold to participate in the next debate later this month. Influential conservatives are urging him to bail out.
“Rand Paul, It Is Time to Take Your Campaign Out Back and Shoot It,” RedState editor Erick Erickson wrote on Thursday.
As the Kentucky senator struggles, a sometime ally turned rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, is working hard to court voters who adored Paul’s father. Rand Paul’s strategists had assumed that voters enamored of former Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas libertarian, would be the bedrock of his support.
Cruz, a fellow product of the tea party movement, is beginning to pick up support just as Paul is losing it. The Texas senator is building a large campaign bank account while Paul is spending more money than he is raising.
Since last month, Cruz has moved up in several polls of the Republican race. Although he remains far behind front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, he has moved firmly into the next tier of candidates, closely bunched together with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina and the party’s onetime establishment favorite, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Drew Ivers, Ron Paul’s 2012 Iowa chairman, suggested there was an inherent conflict in Rand Paul’s presidential slogan — “Defeat the Washington machine” — and the fact he campaigned for members of the Capitol Hill establishment, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “That is a mixed signal.”
Ivers, who is not aligned with any candidate in the 2016 race, said Paul’s efforts to court both the right and left was a flawed strategy. “It has backfired,” he said.
Cruz has taken a different approach and is trying to build a coalition of his tea party base, libertarians and religious voters. The son of a pastor, he announced his presidential campaign at Liberty University, founded by fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell.
“Religious liberty has never been more under assault than it is right now,” Cruz told voters last week at a Pizza Ranch in Rockwell City, Iowa.
“Amen!” a woman responded.
Cruz is perhaps best known for filibustering for more than 21 hours in an unsuccessful effort to defund the national healthcare act and for helping lead a government shutdown in 2013.
Many fellow Republicans in Washington dislike Cruz for such tactics, but the confrontational maneuvers have given him immense credibility among his base — and among fans of Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate.
Cruz has announced endorsements from 15 former supporters of Ron Paul’s presidential bids in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Campaigning in Iowa in recent days, Cruz repeatedly mentioned the elder Paul admiringly.
“I’m one of the original cosponsors of Ron Paul’s audit the Fed” legislation, Cruz told about 50 people in Fort Dodge, Iowa, embracing the former congressman’s signature issue.
On the stump, Cruz assiduously avoids criticizing Trump, unlike Paul, in an apparent effort to snag his supporters should the billionaire’s campaign falter.
Cruz last week reported raising about $12 million in the third quarter and having nearly $13.5 million in the bank. Paul, meanwhile, spent more than $4.5 million, about $2 million more than his campaign raised in the quarter. He listed $2.1 million cash on hand.
As rivals, Paul has criticized Cruz as ineffective because of his confrontational approach in the U.S. Capitol, such as calling McConnell a liar.
“Ted has chosen … to call people dishonest in leadership and call them names, which really goes against the decorum and also against the rules of the Senate, and as a consequence he can’t get anything done legislatively,” Paul said in a September interview on Fox News Radio.
But those criticisms don’t seem to have taken hold with voters. Instead, many Republicans who supported the elder Paul have turned against the son.
“I’ve looked at Rand Paul. He’s quite different than his father in some aspects,” said Gary Kastrup, 71, after watching Cruz speak at a restaurant in Sac City, Iowa.
The retiree supported Ron Paul in 2012 and hasn’t decided whom he is backing this time around. He has ruled out Rand Paul, saying he considers the senator too moderate on issues such as immigration and too close to establishment Republicans in Washington.
Paul, who is simultaneously running for reelection to the Senate, is facing pressure from Kentucky Republicans to give up his long-shot presidential bid and focus on the Senate seat so the GOP doesn’t have to spend resources defending it.
On Thursday, Paul’s campaign manager and chief strategist said in a memo to supporters that prognosticators were putting too much weight on polls and advertising, and not enough on organization.
“There are some in the media who are pushing a false narrative that [Paul] is on the ropes,” the memo said. "… Ground game and political organization have a disproportionate impact in primaries and especially caucuses — and [Paul] has the best organization in America.”
Slaps at his viability clearly bother Paul. During a recent tour of Iowa college campuses, parts of which the campaign livestreamed over the Internet, he noted that the third-most-popular question about him on Google was whether he was still running for president.
“Wouldn’t be doing this dumbass livestreaming if I weren’t. So yes, I still am running for president,” Paul said. “Get over it.”