What do you do when your presidential campaign runs low on steam, poll numbers ebb, funding dries up, your base begins to fracture, and you have to fight for a spot on a main debate stage whose criteria seemed specifically designed to let you make the cut?
Why, attack stronger candidates, of course.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wait to speak at the 'Exempt America from Obamacare' rally, on Capitol Hill, September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Getty Images)
Supporters of Sen. Rand Paul have finally started paying attention to the growing threat to their base presented by surging anti-establishment rival Sen. Ted Cruz. Back-to-back liberty straw polls in New Hampshire and Missouri showed Cruz either tied with Rand or trailing by only a few points – and no other candidate within 20 points of them.
The pair of close votes sent Rand Paul’s denial machine into overdrive, and so much the more after Republican Liberty Caucus Chairman Matt Nye declared his excitement at having “two solid liberty candidates” in a statement congratulating both candidates on the photo finish.
With support for Cruz rising within the Liberty Movement, Rand and his loyalists have decided to train their guns on the Texas firebrand - who was endorsed by both Rand and his father, Rep. Ron Paul, in 2012; who reinforced Rand’s drone filibuster; co-sponsored Audit the Fed; protected internet freedom; pushed for criminal justice reform; co-sponsored a bill to audit the Pentagon; helped pass restrictions on National Security Agency spying; and has promoted federalism on issues from marriage to marijuana.
This hostility against Paul’s erstwhile Senate ally comes despite Rand teetering on the edge of a presidential field full of avowed neoconservative foes, corporatist shills, and at least one admitted socialist.
I guess people with their back to you make the easiest targets.
Paul’s campaign - still sore from the beating it took at the bare knuckles of Donald Trump earlier this year - decided to shift their attacks to Cruz, using the occasion of the Republican Liberty Caucus nailbiter to take passive-aggressive potshots in an attempt to win back lost ground.
Two separate attacks frantically stitched together by Rand backers after the shockingly narrow win at the Republican Liberty Caucus have tried to make the conflicted case that liberty voters do not support Cruz, and, well, if they do, they shouldn’t.
The first was a snazzy graphic panning the comparatively low percentage of recognized libertarian leaders among Cruz’s state leadership team in Iowa. This poorly-reasoned narrative, which deliberately ignored the fact that Rand started his recruitment with eight years’ worth of lists, is already backfiring on his would-be champions.
By highlighting the fact that Cruz’s diverse leadership team includes the evangelicals, tea partiers, libertarians, business conservatives, and independents necessary to build a winning coalition, they have unintentionally made the case that their own campaign is in fact one-dimensional, with little interest outside the hand-me-down network that they inherited in Iowa.
While Rand’s national team continues to promote him as the most electable candidate and the best head-to-head matchup against Hillary Clinton, his lower-tier loyalists are busy blowing holes in that narrative by insisting that the campaign does indeed look as ideologically monochromatic as everyone expected it to be.
It’s tough when your friends try to help too much.
The second attack was a crude summary of the hawkish foreign policy views of several people not named Ted Cruz, who are affiliated with the Cruz campaign in some capacity.
The intent of this hatchet piece was to try to get libertarians to ignore Cruz’s actual record on foreign policy – which is not dissimilar to that of Paul – and focus on the statements of a few of his advisors, because, neocons.
The fact that Rand’s defenders have been reduced to guilt by association in an attempt to shame Cruz is particularly embarrassing given their candidate’s obvious vulnerability in this area.
After all, having opted to prop up moderately-liberal establishment fixture Mitch McConnell, stage a cozy breakfast photo-op with race-baiting tax-evader Al Sharpton, and throw the weight of his endorsement behind pro-abortion Sen. Susan Collins, who ended up joining with the Democrats this year to sink a Senate bill cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, Rand has hemorrhaged conservative support for two years due to his associations.
And then there’s the little matter of the criminal investigation still haunting members of Paul’s senior leadership team – charges which would have been even more severe had not several been thrown out because of a breached deal with the FBI.
Pot, meet kettle.
But enough on associations. I can forgive a Hail Mary there, in light of the fact that Cruz’s issue stances haven’t exactly helped them build their “Ted Cruz is pro-war” narrative recently.
Can’t you just smell the warmongering?
I guess if I were that devoid of actual policy complaints, I’d be reduced to trying to implicate unofficial campaign advisers too.
As a proud member of the liberty movement working to advance the ideals of limited government, sound money, and a restrained foreign policy, what I can’t forgive as easily is the fact that the anti-Cruz bias of the attackers has blinded them to the obvious benefits of having two major presidential candidates advancing our issues, and has caused them to place the politics of personality over the issues that built the movement.
It’s simple, really. If you spend time touting issues only when your candidate says them, then your candidate is more important to you than the issue. If you promote the issue no matter who says it, then you care more about the issue than the candidates.
Sadly, many of Rand’s folks have shown that they care less about the message of liberty, than the logo under that message.
But perhaps worst of all, Rand Paul has gotten off message, and allowed himself to be defined by the candidates he attacks; and both he and the 2016 cycle are worse for it.
The wild swinging – first at Trump, now at Cruz – has derailed the important policy dialogue surrounding the Randidacy to the point that viewers and interviewers no longer care what he has to say about the Fed or Afghanistan, because they are more interested in seeing him go after the other candidates in a perpetually-backfiring cycle that only serves to reduce interest in his campaign and boost the very candidates he attacks.
Why can’t Rand Paul hurt Ted Cruz?
Because at the moment nobody knows who Rand Paul is – least of all his own campaign.
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