Rand Paul is in trouble.
At least, it looks like Rand Paul is in trouble. When answering questions about fundraising posed by Politico last week, spokesmen from both the official campaign and America’s Liberty PAC couched on their actual numbers. PAC spokesman Jesse Benton may have revealed much more than he intended when he said, "Results to date have been solid and give us lots of room for optimism as we continue. We also know this is a marathon, not a sprint."
Oof. Marathon-not-sprint is never where you want to be when other candidates are charming the multimillionaires who make national presidential campaigns tick.
Part of me believes it shouldn’t be this way. Paul has been making headlines as an anti-establishment pot-stirrer with his opposition to the impending PATRIOT Act extension. Back in 2013, an overwhelming majority of Americans stood in solidarity with Paul after he held a 13-hour filibuster protesting the use of drone strikes against American citizens. Senator Paul has been much more adept than fellow presidential contender Senator Cruz at influencing his colleagues on issues of policy without crossing the line into willful alienation—so what’s the problem?
The other side of my brain knows, though—and so do donors and strategists. More from Politico:
Among those involved the 2016 money sweepstakes, theories of Paul's struggles abound. Some point to his anti-establishment posture, which has alienated some in the business community — much of whose support has gone for Bush. Others say his more dovish foreign policy stances has turned off Jewish Republicans, many of whom view him as insufficiently pro-Israel. Still others say he's found competition from Cruz, who like Paul has branded himself as a free-market thinker.
Others contend that Paul's unpolished style might be working against him as he seeks out the support of wealthy Republican benefactors, While attending a California donor conference sponsored by Charles and David Koch, two of the nation's most powerful Republican donors, Paul was criticized for dressing casually in jeans, slouching in his chair and giving rambling answers to questions. One person briefed on the Kochs' thinking said Paul's star has faded in their eyes, and that it's now hard to see them providing substantial financial support to the Kentucky senator.
All of these? None of these? Some of these? It’s really hard to say, but what’s clear is that Candidate Rand Paul is having a much harder time building bridges than Senator Rand Paul.
Image is important, and as much as activists and in-the-bubble politicos (I’m looking at you, LI readers) like to see candidates try things that are new and different, there is and always will be such a thing as too much new and different. Donors don’t like the unexpected; jeans and chucks and a less-than-country club demeanor are all unexpected. (Anyone who has ever been in a room with Rand Paul knows that he doesn’t act like your typical politician.)
This type of thing, also unexpected:
In fact, it’s so unexpected, I can’t even begin to explain it. Michael Bay presents Amateur Wrestling? To be fair, this isn’t a product of Paul’s campaign. This ad was released by Paul’s America’s Liberty PAC in anticipation of today’s PATRIOT Act showdown.
I won’t hold this photoshop nightmare against Paul, but it does say a lot about the culture surrounding his campaign, and who they’re trying to appeal to—and this ad doesn’t give a damn about million dollar donors. (It reminds me of this weird piece of fan fiction from early last year, which also didn’t give a damn about million dollar donors. Cruz, however, has a few more than Paul, and wasn’t affiliated with he artist who put the image of my shirtless senator in my head for all eternity.)
When you’re running a major campaign, you want donors from all tax brackets. Getting those donations means pushing ad campaigns aimed at $ 5 donors, $ 250 donors, $ 1,500 donors, all the way up to supporters who write those multi-million dollar funny money checks that make you laugh because nobody has this much money. NOBODY.
Something isn’t working. Paul hired one of the buzziest creative firms in the business, which is helping him gain major ground in the digital space. We know his super PAC has a sense of humor (and a Google search history that includes “shirtless wrestler.”) He won a Senate race, so we know he has a sizable network of donors—statewides aren’t cheap, especially when you’re challenging Mitch McConnell’s anointed candidate.
Maybe it has nothing to do with strategy, or cheesy videos. Maybe it’s him.
If that’s the case, it’s going to take a lot more than a well-placed ad or soundbite to translate Paul into something donors and eventually voters can understand. Voters (and pundits and activists and bloggers) may be looking for a hero; high dollar donors are looking for a worthy investment.
It may be time for Paul’s team to sit down and ask themselves, would I invest in us? They still have time to turn things around, but for now, at least when it comes to donors, they have their answer.