Twelve days after the Times piece was published, an organization known as the Islamic State, or ISIS—which had announced the formation of a caliphate to govern Muslims worldwide, but globally was not yet a household name—released a video depicting the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Exactly two weeks later, ISIS published a similar video showing another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, also being beheaded. With the spectacular barbarism piercing Western consciousness—amid wall-to-wall coverage, the executioner was dubbed “Jihadi John” by media outlets—Obama delivered a prime-time address on September 10 and pledged to “destroy” ISIS.
The next month, Time magazine featured Paul on its cover as “The Most Interesting Man in Politics.” The timing could not have been worse: Having intended to capture Paul’s rise, the story marked the onset of his decline. He had already dropped to 12 percent in the RCP national poll average, from 14 percent in July; by Christmas, he was at 9 percent. The crash continued throughout 2015, interrupted by only a fleeting bounce after his April 7 campaign launch. In late July, he was below 6 percent, and by October, one year after Time’s cover, he hovered at just over 2 percent.
“We did a survey in Iowa that fall, and in the survey, Republican caucus-goers were very much opposed to the policies that Senator Paul was waving the flag for: less spying, less drone strikes, less foreign intervention, closing of foreign bases,” recalls Vincent Harris, the campaign’s chief digital strategist.
Embarrassingly, Paul’s numbers plunged so low that Fox Business excluded him from its main debate in January 2016, less than a month before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. (Paul boycotted the undercard debate.) A few weeks later, after winning just 4.5 percent of the vote in Iowa, Paul quit the race.