Dog Days Of August Not Kind To Rand Paul
August has not been kind to Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator and one of 17 contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.
In fact, August has been downright rude to Paul.
Not much has gone right for Paul lately.
By all reports, his campaign fundraising has slowed down considerably.
Earlier this month, two of his long-time advisers were indicted on federal corruption charges.
This week, after releasing a campaign ad in New Hampshire and Iowa recycling old Donald Trump statements about being a fan of Bill and Hillary Clinton and saying the Democrats do a better job of running the economy, The Donald, the erstwhile front-runner in the GOP pack, sent the Washington Post a response in which he made fun of Paul and even bragged about “trouncing” the Kentucky senator in a recent round of golf.
Then there was the August 6 Fox News debate among the top 10 GOP candidates, in which a Paul zinger aimed at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seemed to fall flat; and Paul’s over-all performance did not get great reviews.
And now, there seem to be those in the Kentucky Republican Party establishment who are balking at Paul’s plan to re-write state party rules so he can run for president and re-election to the Senate at the same time by doing away with the GOP presidential primary in the Bluegrass State and replacing it with a caucus. Under Kentucky law, Paul can’t be on the ballot for both offices.
Not a good month at all. Not fatal, in terms of his chances of emerging from this small army of GOP candidates, but not at all helpful.
“It’s way early,’’ said Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University. “There is plenty of time; and there will be plenty of opportunities to get back on track. But it’s been a rough stretch for Paul.”
Paul may find out just how rough on Saturday, Aug. 22, when the Kentucky Republican Party’s 340-member state central committee meets on the question of creating a GOP presidential caucus. The candidate is expected to be there to make his case.
What has some central committee members concerned is the cost of a caucus, which would probably be in the neighborhood of $500,000 and would be the responsibility of the party.
But Paul’s chief strategist, Doug Stafford, put out a statement Wednesday saying Paul “stands by his statement that this caucus wouldn’t cost the party anything. The money is in the bank; and we anticipate the support of the full central committee for a caucus in 2016.”
In others words, Paul will pay for it out of his campaign fund.
Still, some Kentucky Republicans have their doubts about the concept.
“My feeling is that I like and respect Rand Paul, but I don’t think there should be special allowances made for him,’’ said Campbell County Judge-Executive Steve Pendery.
Pendery said that as much as he respects Paul, he wishes the party would “go beg with Mitt Romney to come back, given the state of this thing right now. With this many candidates in the race, it’s hard for any one of them to move the needle in the polls.”
“Moving the needle” in the polling was the object of the candidates in the prime time Fox News debate on Aug. 6, and it really doesn’t seem to have worked for Paul.
The web site realclearpolitics.com, which tracks polling in key states and nationally, averaged the last four national polls of GOP voters on Friday and had Paul at 4.5 percent support – in eighth place. The only two in double figures were Trump (22.5 percent) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush (11.8 percent).
“The debate was interesting – fascinating, even – but as a candidate, when there are 10 candidates on the stage, you don’t have much time to score points,’’ Mariani said. “If you miss that opportunity, it’s gone.”
Paul got into an exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie which Mariani said started out OK for Paul, but ended badly.
It was a question on national security and the use of government surveillance to combat terrorism. Christie has gone after Paul in the past on Paul’s libertarian stance that the government has no business butting into the lives of American citizens.
In the debate, after Christie defended surveillance programs, Paul shot back.
“I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans,’’ Paul said.
Christie called that a “ridiculous answer” and questioned how the government is supposed to know the difference.
“Use the Fourth Amendment; get a warrant,” Paul said. “Get a judge to sign a warrant.”
“Listen, Senator,” Christie said, “You know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that. When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is make sure you use the system the way it’s supposed to work.”
Then Paul dropped the “Obama hug” bomb.
“I don’t trust President Obama with our records,’’ Paul said. “I know you gave him a big hug and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”
He was referring to photos and video from November 2012 when Christie and Obama appeared to embrace while touring the damage Hurricane Sandy did to Christie’s home state.
Christie fired back.
“Sen. Paul, you know the hugs that I remember are the hugs I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th,’’ Christie said. “Those are the hugs I remember.”
Mariani said he thought Paul’s jab was a bomb.
“Candidates come prepared with these one-liners; and when you have a debate like this, with so many candidates, you have limited chances to use them,’’ Mariani said. “So Paul dropped it in when he had a chance. But when you go negative in that way, you can hurt yourself.”
One of Paul’s biggest problems right now, Mariani said, is that he entered the campaign as the “outsider,” and outsiders have appeal to many GOP primary voters. But, Mariani said, Trump has usurped the role of the “outsider.”
“Trump’s the ultimate outsider,’’ Mariani said. “I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s working for him now.”
Paul, Mariani said, “has things going for him – he has that libertarian thing that is growing in the Republican party.
“And he has been the candidate who is the most articulate in talking to other constituencies outside the party,” Mariani said.
Those constituencies would include African-Americans, libertarians who do not trust the major political parties, and young people. On Thursday, the Paul campaign launched a “Students for Rand” campaign that has the goal of creating 300 new college chapters in the next 30 days.
There’s only one problem with Paul’s strategy of expanding the boundaries of the party, Mariani said.
“You’ve made an impression on people who aren’t likely to vote in a Republican primary,” he said.