Rand Paul’s time on the presidential trail is over, but it doesn’t mean he’s getting out of politics. Via CNN:
“It’s been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House,” Paul said in the statement. “Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of Liberty.”
A part of me is happy Paul is dropping out because it means he can focus on the Senate race. If he wins (which he’s favored to), it means Paul can keep teaming up with Utah Senator Mike Lee on justice reform, spending reform, NSA spying, diplomacy, and the like, all while prepping for another possible presidential run in the future. The thing people and politicians tend to forget is how important Congress is as a buffer against the Presidency. This buffer has certainly been lost over the last 50 years (probably starting around the time of LBJ’s Great Society) but has seriously fallen by the wayside in the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. So Paul can be “that voice” in the Senate, working with Lee to be the ones yelling, “wait!” before some big anti-freedom bill gets brought up again. Paul and Lee are the minority of the minority in the Senate because of this, so it’s important their voices don’t get lost. If Paul (and Cruz) didn’t stay in the Senate then the Cerberus head would be down to one (Lee). This would give the Kentucky GOP Establishment the chance to put in their own candidate (Trey Grayson) in the Senate where it would be business as usual. It’s true, Paul lost plenty of national support from some of the more stringent conservatives and libertarians because he was willing to walk across the aisle and be friends with the Establishment. CNN thinks that’s one reason why his candidacy never really got off the ground:
Moreover, Paul had a hard time reestablishing his father’s libertarian coalition because he had sought to broaden his appeal to more establishment-minded Republicans, hurting his credibility with some in his core base of supporters.
United Liberty also looked at Paul’s candidacy, saying his attempt to lure in social conservatives hurt him more than helped. I know there are plenty of people who have consternation about Paul supporting Mitch McConnell over Matt Bevin in 2012, and I get it. Bevin is the insurgent versus McConnell the entrenched candidate. Were I in Kentucky in 2012, I would have voted for Bevin over McConnell. But it’s important to note Bevin ended up winning the Kentucky governorship last year, so is that really “a loss”? It could be Paul saw Bevin as not 100% ready for prime time, so he went with McConnell. This gave Bevin more time to plan for the future and win the governorship. The fact Bevin seemed to briefly cave on Medicaid expansion before sticking to his campaign promise of dismantling it, shows he may have been more susceptible to the lure of big government than originally thought. This could be why it’s better he’s in Frankfort because he won’t be completely separated from the community he serves.
Paul’s “bridge” actions between the establishment and the freedom wing have always been heavily scrutinized, probably because his last name is “Paul”. But being able to negotiate with fellow politicians is important. The question is how far do you go in the negotiations? Do you get a 50-50 split, or do you lose 80-20 (or win by that margin)? Paul recognizes the importance of half a loaf in a way that’s not “oh, we got the oil export ban lifted, so let’s give the White House everything else it wants.” It’s doubtful the USA Freedom Act would even have been considered if Paul and Lee didn’t make friends within the Establishment to get it on the floor, even if I don’t think it went far enough to fight back against unlawful NSA spying.
It will be interesting to see who (if anyone) Paul endorses. My guess is probably Cruz because the two are friendly, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Rubio got a look too. It just depends on when the endorsement comes down. If it’s Cruz vs. Trump, I’d expect Paul to heartily endorse Cruz. If it’s Cruz vs. Rubio vs. Trump, I still think Paul goes for Cruz because their view of government is pretty similar. If it’s Trump vs. Rubio, Paul is probably endorsing Rubio (or not endorsing anyone). As for his supporters, I expect some of them to flock to Cruz (Ed thinks this as well), some to Rubio, some maybe to Trump (although I’ve no idea why), and some to whoever the Libertarian Party candidate is going to be.
Does this mean the libertarian “moment” is done? Honestly, I don’t think so. The country wasn’t going to swing from being in favor of big government, to being in favor of smaller, weaker government in two or three election cycles. It’s not going to swing towards smaller, weaker government in ten election cycles. Conservative and libertarians activists have to be willing to get inside the trenches, go into neighborhoods they normally wouldn’t, and keep pushing. This doesn’t mean sacrificing principles for votes, it means showing a true difference between the other party and messaging it correctly. There are plenty of people I know who want the government to leave them alone. This means going out, finding them, and convincing them to get involved. It means explaining to them how government is actually holding them back, and doing it in a way which pushes back against the “loud noises” of those who yell in favor of big government. Rand Paul is part of this push, but so is Mike Lee, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie. But, again, they’re the minority of the minority in DC. It’s going to take much longer to get this done, and it’s something people are going to have to accept. The question for them is whether they take their ball and go home, or keep fighting?