Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Rand Paul Presidential Campaign: An Autopsy

By Rosie Gray and Tarini Parti

Just before the Republican debate last year in Colorado, a senior aide to Rand Paul had an idea.
Sergio Gor, the campaign’s communications director, decided he wanted to obtain an eagle for Paul to appear with before the debate.

Staffers were dispatched to try to find the eagle to rent, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the incident. One estimated that several people spent half a day on the task. Eventually a falcon was located, but by that point the scheme had leaked out to other staffers, who quashed it.
“We spent like half a day on this ridiculous project that I’m not even sure was approved by the higher-ups,” said one staffer. After that, other staffers nicknamed Gor “Condor.”

The episode is emblematic of the scattershot approach that characterized much of Paul’s bid, which he ended on Wednesday. Once dubbed the “most interesting man in politics,” Paul seemed destined for a key role in 2016, his libertarian views promising an ideological clash for the direction of the Republican Party.

But Paul never gained traction. He moved leftward and rightward on various issues. His campaign tried various gimmicks — from taking a chainsaw to the tax code to livestreaming his day. He struggled to raise money, never securing the support of billionaire libertarian backers, or building the kind of grassroots army that powered his father and is powering Bernie Sanders. Insiders say he just didn’t have the personality required to fundraise.

And he never had much influence on the other candidates, either. On the issues, Ted Cruz deftly coopted libertarian positions, and Donald Trump’s dominance of the media coverage of the campaign never gave Paul the kind of exposure he had in 2013 and 2014. Conflicts between staff, particularly in the press operation, hamstrung normal campaign operations, a half dozen sources say. In the end, though some expected him to hang on till after New Hampshire, Paul decided to exit the race after Iowa.

In a conference call Wednesday morning, Paul’s advisers said he made his decision to drop out in the last 24 hours after determining that “there wasn’t much he could do to fix the trajectory of the race.” Paul will not be endorsing in the GOP primary, but will go on to support the party’s eventual nominee.

“He flew back from Iowa and thought about it and decided it was the right time to do that sometime yesterday,” said Doug Stafford, Paul’s chief strategist.

Stafford and other advisers insisted that Paul had stuck to his libertarian message throughout the campaign — as opposed to the compromises that many believe Paul made on policy to broaden his appeal — and had a well-organized ground game in Iowa, despite coming in fifth place. Instead, they pointed to Trump and the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino as factors that changed the dynamic of the race.

“The change in trajectory on the issues and the outsized attention given to one outsider made it very difficult to get our message out,” Stafford said. Specifically on Trump’s rise, Stafford added: “We definitely believe it sucked the oxygen out of the room during critical times.

Trump’s omnipresence made it impossible for Paul’s message to break through widely.
“The difficulty raising money, the competition in his space, and the Trump phenomenon filling up so much of the media — he was just never able to sell his message,” said one Paul insider.

Compounding the issues with getting the message out was dysfunction in the press operation, sources say.

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