Almost exactly one year ago, Time magazine, on its cover, anointed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) the “Most Interesting Man in Politics.”
Lately, that has been used more as a punchline than as an applause line.
Over the last several months, the cover has been widely used as a convenient launching point for stories detailing Paul’s sinking support among Republican voters and flailing presidential campaign.
The Huffington Post noted the contrast between Paul’s magazine cover and his difficulty gaining popularity in the polls. So did Fusion. And Politico. The Washington Post noted how the “most interesting man in politics” was struggling in New Hampshire, they key first-primary state. The Boston Globe went further, saying there was no way that Paul was as interesting as the senator’s most vicious antagonist, current Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Paul heads in to Wednesday’s third Republican debate with an almost fully developed consensus — the senator is already on his last legs.
“About the only thing Rand Paul is now doing in the race is serving as a future George Washington University campaign management class hypothetical in how not to run a Presidential campaign,” prominent conservative radio host Erick Erickson wrote recently, in a piece titled, “Rand Paul: It Is Time To Take Your Campaign Out Back And Shoot It.”
“A man who should be setting the agenda of a new GOP reform path is now, at best, an asterisk, headed toward being a polling asterisk,” Erickson added.
In recent weeks, Paul and his campaign have been aggressively pushing back against that consensus. But since his campaign launch in April, Paul has failed to gain the kind of traction with libertarian-leaning and younger voters that some Republicans hoped would usher in different kinds of supporters and expand the party tent.
And though the Kentucky senator has shaken up the field with unorthodox positions on certain items — he remains outspoken, for example, in his wariness of foreign intervention and has helped lead the push for criminal-justice reform — he just hasn’t yielded the groundswell of support that many observers had predicted would come his way.
“Maybe this year, the demand for libertarianism is far lower than many of us libertarians had hoped. Or maybe it is right now, but won’t be, as of January,” veteran Republican operative Liz Mair told Business Insider.
Paul’s poll numbers — he’s currently in eighth place nationally, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average of five recent surveys — haven’t just come in lower than expected. They have also caused uneasiness in the state party, where he’s also running a re-election campaign. According to Politico, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is pressuring Paul to concentrate on holding his Senate seat.
Fellow candidates, too, have smelled blood in the water.
Trump has appeared to take unusual pleasure in demonizing Paul, who he said shouldn’t have even qualified for the last Republican debate. And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been taking veiled shots at Paul, boasting recently that Paul’s potential supporters are instead coalescing behind Cruz instead.
“The most encouraging thing I would say is that I think three of the lanes are collapsing into one, which is the evangelical lane, the conservative tea party lane, and the libertarian lane are all collapsing into the conservative lane and we’re seeing those lanes unify behind our campaign,” Cruz said, according to Politico.
Paul’s treatment by the press and other candidates has frustrated his campaign, which points to signs that the senator isn’t in as bad a position as is the conventional wisdom. And though the campaign has just more than $US2 million cash on hand, some close to the campaign said it doesn’t come close to going over its budget.
Meanwhile, the campaign argues that some of Paul’s recent campaign gambits have been paying off.
Paul live-streamed almost an entire day on the campaign trail, which garnered 400,000 views and helped raise a healthy chunk of money, according to sources close to the campaign. And though the senator made headlines for his apparent contempt for the ordeal, his campaign thought it was successful enough to seriously think about doing it again.
The campaign, which has been preparing intensely for Wednesday’s debate, thinks the terms of the contest give the senator a chance to play to his strengths as a quasi-libertarian. The debate, hosted by CNBC, focuses on fiscal and monetary issues, a subject area on which the campaign argues its candidate is more well-versed and conservative than his opponents.
“I think that Rand differentiates himself from everyone on that stage on foreign policy, but this is an economic debate. And we’re going to make the argument that Rand Paul is the biggest fiscal conservative on that stage,” Sergio Gor, Paul’s communications director, told Business Insider.
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