Rand Paul’s Presidential Campaign: In Memoriam

Last week Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced he was ending his campaign for the GOP nomination. Paul’s exit from the race was unsurprising as his campaign never really gained traction. Truthfully, his prospects of winning the GOP nomination probably died long before he announced his candidacy because of the rise of Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Even though Paul’s campaign was DOA, I am thankful for the more libertarian voice he brought to the GOP primary.

Paul rose to prominence in the GOP for two reasons. First, he represented the libertarian wing of the GOP once led by his father, Ron Paul. Second, he was one of the staunchest defenders of federalism and for reducing the size of the federal government. Libertarianism (especially on foreign policy) and reducing the size and scope of the federal government were big priorities in the immediate wake of the Bush years. Many GOP voters had become unhappy with foreign endeavors like the Iraq War and the TARP bailouts. Paul perfectly suited what these GOP voters wanted. 

The zenith of Paul’s popularity in the GOP came when he led a 13-hour filibuster against drone strikes in March 2013. The filibuster lit up conservative media and entrenched Paul in the hearts of many conservatives. Unfortunately for Paul, his fall from number one in the eyes of many conservatives came soon after.

When Paul led his 2013 filibuster he was joined by a number of fellow senators, including the freshmen senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. Cruz had just been elected in 2012, so he had not fully established himself among conservatives. But Cruz was probably the one person who most shared Paul’s commitment to federalism. Throughout 2013 Cruz grabbed more and more of the conservative headlines, finally culminating in his 21-hour filibuster of Obamacare in September 2013.

The moment Cruz’ filibuster ended, the damage was done. Cruz was now the leader of the tea party movement in Congress and Rand Paul was never really able to regain that position. That is why Paul’s campaign for the GOP nomination was doomed from the start—most conservatives had switched allegiance to Cruz. Truthfully, I don’t think many GOP voters were ever planning to support a Paul presidential campaign. His more dovish view on foreign policy was not the natural axis of most conservative voters. To put it in more colloquial terms, Paul was the kind of candidate GOP voters would date, not marry.

Even though he never garnered significant numbers in the polls, I liked what Paul contributed to the GOP debates. He was one of the few candidates who was willing to challenge Donald Trump early and often. He also brought some great philosophical and substantive discussion to the debates. I personally think he made great arguments for why his positions on marijuana (I still disagree with him on this), abortion, gay marriage, and spending were in-line with federalism. He also made sound points on foreign policy that honestly challenged the GOP status quo on Iraq, Syria, Russia, and Islamic terrorism.

If it isn’t clear already, I am going to miss what Rand Paul brought to the GOP primary. Most tragically, we lose Paul’s flat tax proposal, which was one of the best tax plans I had seen in years. It is simple, conservative, and could significantly boost the U.S. economy. Projections from the Tax Foundation showed that on a dynamic basis his plan would raise nearly $737 billion over ten years. Combined with sensible entitlement reforms, his plan could be one that would lead to significant budget surpluses and a lower national debt. That is what I most care about. Sadly, it seems that many GOP voters (even those in the tea party) have forgotten about the need to reduce deficits and grow the economy.

So, yes, I am going to miss Rand Paul. Thankfully, he isn’t going away. He has announced his intentions to seek reelection to the U.S. Senate and most pollsters believe he should win easily. No matter what happens in the GOP primary, I am confident that Paul will continue to be a strong proponent of federalism and reducing the size of the federal government. I hope his voice gets the same respect it did going forward that it did before he decided to run for president.