Rand Paul, the self-described “libertarian-ish” Senator from Kentucky, is not the presidential frontrunner — he’s even fallen in recent polls. He is not the most heavily-covered in the news. Some pundits proclaim his presidential campaign is already over, despite Time magazine’s description as “the most interesting man in politics” (‘The Reinventions of Rand Paul,’ Oct. 16, 2014).
Ultimately, this is just another symptom of primary politics. Rand Paul has been prominent on the national stage for years. Candidates like Carly Fiorina or John Kasich are relative newcomers to most Americans. It’s natural for the electorate to fixate on the shiny and the new, for a while, but that doesn’t amount to substance.
Despite recent poll data from Public Policy Polling showing Paul at 1 percent among Republican candidates, he has staying power. The rumors of his political death are being grossly exaggerated. His strong grassroots support, unique policy positions, and his wide cross-party appeal means he will stick around to the bitter end.
Ultimately, Paul provides a rallying point for the growing liberty movement: politically active and rabidly passionate, the small movement could well tip the election. Samuel Adams is thought to have said, “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”
His falling numbers are caused by the sheer size of the Republican field. While he has a small, dedicated libertarian core, other candidates are chipping away at more mainstream support — Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, even Donald Trump.
In order to survive in a presidential primary, a candidate needs either vast sums of money or strong grassroots support. While Paul has low fundraising totals, roughly seven million in the second quarter of 2015, half of that was in small contributions. That means that he’s attracting a core group of supporters who passionately support him. Passion is key in primaries, and Paul supporters have a lot of it.
He has focused primarily on nurturing and growing this grassroots support, much in the vein of his father Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential bids. In addition, the Paul campaign has showed the most social media savvy, and with some of the most ardent supporters. Social media is quickly becoming one of the most important campaign tools, and a solid strategy is a great aid to a campaign.
Presidential primaries are highly unstable, especially early on. Few voters have made up their minds, vacillating from one candidate to the next depending on media coverage, name recognition, and noise. Most voters have yet to settle on the boring policy proposals and budget plans. They determine their support by weighing rhetoric and stump speeches.
At this stage in the primary, polls are unreliable, volatile, and heavily skewed. The first chance to win delegates is at the Iowa Caucuses, Feb. 1, 2016. That’s five months away. Polls five months out are a poor gauge of what the field will look like at caucus time. This time in 2011, Rick Perry was leading by double digits. Six weeks later, it was Herman Cain. A month after that, Newt Gingrich. The polls reflected their perceived electoral strength at the time, but not in reality.
Many candidates will drop out by Iowa, and their supporters will flock to the remaining candidates. Rand Paul stands to benefit from that, because he provides a legitimate and viable alternative to the status quo.
Rand Paul is running a campaign of ideas, not one of noise and blind rhetoric. His strength is in his individuality and uniqueness. On foreign policy, civil liberties, and genuine budget reform, he stands alone. The challenge for Paul is to convince voters to support his “libertarian-ish” alternative.