Rand Paul dropped out of the presidential race earlier than most people expected. He was wise to do so. Dropping out after coming in fifth in Iowa, but still getting more votes than Jeb Bush and Chris Christie combined, allowed him to leave with a modicum of respectability and with the impression that he wants the party to coalesce and avoid nominating Donald Trump.
There was no path for Rand this year: the most appealing parts of his message were grasped by other candidates, and he recognized early on that this was a campaign where he would be on the outskirts. He missed very few votes in the Senate for that reason, understanding that within the Republican Party’s coalition, his views are the stuff of the Senate, not the Presidency.
Paul’s early exit has led some to argue that the “Libertarian Moment” of two years ago was a myth – Ramesh Ponnuru argues that here. Noah Rothman has a slightly different take here. Both are worth reading, though I would disagree on a few points. In 2014, Paul was polling very well in Iowa and New Hampshire – tied for the lead or in double digits in both states. He was connecting with the zeitgeist of the times with his actions in the Senate, and he looked to be a major factor in the coming presidential stakes. Lindsey Graham entered the presidential stakes primarily to have a voice on the debate stage to push back against Paul’s foreign policy views. The assumption was that no matter the outcome, Paul’s campaign would matter.