Once A Darling, Rand Paul Now Looks Like A Dud

Here’s why his White House hopes are fading fast.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul's campaign is teetering on the edge, with the once-trendy presidential candidate telling fellow Kentucky Republicans that his chances of winning the 2016 GOP nomination are no better than "1 in 10."

"Actually, his chances are probably more like 1 in 50," said University of Kentucky professor Al Cross, the dean of the state's political observers. "He's kind of disappeared on us."

Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign has stalled after a promising start.
Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign has stalled after a promising start.

Paul gained a small victory Saturday when the Kentucky GOP voted to move the state’s nominating event from May to March, which allows the candidate to continue to run for the White House next year and campaign for another term in the U.S. Senate. Under state law, he would not have been able to do both.

Paul has promised to pay for the earlier primary, which he may come to regret as his own fundraising efforts have not met earlier expectations.

Rand Paul, the son of onetime Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former GOP Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), broke onto the national scene in 2010. An eye surgeon with no elective experience, he defeated McConnell's handpicked candidate in the GOP primary that year and went on to win the Senate seat in a tea party wave.

Three years later, he electrified the Senate and won libertarian (and even liberal) plaudits by staging a passionate filibuster against the possibility of drone strikes on U.S. soil.

At the start of the 2016 campaign, he was regarded as a top White House contender, and he was consistently running in the top three or four of the GOP field as recently as May. This week he is running far back in the pack, in the eighth or ninth spot, with an average of 4.3 percent among likely Republican voters.

What's wrong with Rand?

BEHEADINGS. Paul's initial appeal was as a certified libertarian skeptic of the use of military force abroad. He was right about trouble in Iraq, but over the last two years the rise of the Islamic State has muted his potential appeal to the GOP grassroots. In response, Paul has shifted to a more muscular stance on military force, which seems like the kind of politics-as-usual move he claims to hate. "He got caught in a changing international situation," Cross said.

TRUMP. Like everyone else, Paul has been overshadowed by the rocketing rise of celebrity-pol Donald Trump. But Paul, too, was trying to run as a nonpolitical figure -- even calling himself "Dr. Paul" in campaign ads. On that score, Trump makes him look like a rank insider.

Trump has even outmaneuvered Paul on Iraq, portraying himself as more of a dove on Iraq than Paul has been doing lately.

MONEY. Not a wealthy man, Paul had been counting on his father's web-based "money bomb" fundraising pushes. He did raise $7 million in the second quarter of this year, but that still left him halfway back in the pack -- and that money is being split with his potential Senate campaign.

Unlike rivals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, Paul has been unable to find any billionaire backers.

LEGAL TROUBLE. Not for Paul, but for one of his former key aides, Jesse Benton, who has pleaded innocent to charges that he was involved in bribing an Iowa politician during the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Benton was working for Ron the father at the time, but the case is being heard in Iowa and will continue to produce headlines there.

MEH MITCH. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell are not friends. They are, at best, uncomfortable allies. When Paul announced his presidential campaign, McConnell said that he supported his fellow Kentuckian, but also that he would not campaign for him, citing the fact that there were at least two other Senate Republicans in the race.  No one seriously thinks that McConnell wants Paul to win.

NO FEEL. Local political observers say that Paul doesn't get the rhythm and the requirements of early-state campaigning. In Iowa, Huffington Post contributor Samantha-Jo Roth reports, he jams as many events as possible into a short visit. Doing so misses the point in Iowa, where candidates are supposed to listen and converse patiently -- and endlessly -- with voters.

But then if things keep going the way they are, Rand Paul may not have to worry about campaigning in Iowa -- or anywhere else but Kentucky.