front page story in the New York Times. It treated him seriously enough as a potential candidate to zoom in on the vital question of money: can this on-the-rise outsider with some heterodox opinions raise enough to win a presidential race?Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is likely to run for president. That's not exactly news, but the libertarian-leaning senator got some major earned media out of that fact last week, a
The story introduces you to a handful of big, big money potential donors—none of whom are yet on the record as saying they'll bring out that big, big money via SuperPACs or other uncoordinated spending to help Paul. (Neither Paul nor his RandPAC team would comment on his money issues to me for this article.) The Times story continues Paul's delicate public dance with the weight that accompanies the term libertarian, one he doesn't run from but isn't willing to carry entirely. (This story sums him up in paraphrase as calling libertarianism "only one of several influences on his thinking.")
Big money generally doesn't shape or move mainstream opinion these days, the way a Paul campaign might have to, but just delivers it in a weighty, concentrated form. This is vividly demonstrated in a recent Politico report based on off-record interviews with over two dozen Wall Street big-money boys.
Even ones who might normally want to help fund a Republican presidential candidate, Politico found, are ready to settle for the normal, centrist, likely Democratic candidate (so we now think, but remember we thought that about her in 2006 as well) Hillary Clinton:
The darkest secret in the big money world of the Republican coastal elite is that the most palatable alternative to a nominee such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky would be Clinton, a familiar face on Wall Street following her tenure as a New York senator with relatively moderate views on taxation and financial regulation.
"If it turns out to be Jeb versus Hillary we would love that and either outcome would be fine," one top Republican-leaning Wall Street lawyer said over lunch in midtown Manhattan last week. "We could live with either one. Jeb versus Joe Biden would also be fine. It's Rand Paul or Ted Cruz versus someone like Elizabeth Warren that would be everybody's worst nightmare."
A genuine freaks vs. the student council dynamic writ large is at play here. Paul is, whether he likes it or not, on the wrong side of that dynamic according to many money folk, for the same reason he is to many normal folk—that much libertarianism scares them.
A real "it musn't happen here" fear animates many Americans at the blood-chilling notion of a candidate like Paul who wants to actually balance the budget or restore government (and the military) to constitutional limits, stabbing at crony capitalism and federal drug policy along the way. Michael Gerson at The Washington Post is pre-emptively linking Paul with Barry Goldwater's historical defeat in 1964—don't make that mistake again, GOP!, by nominating someone willing to actually grapple with a government that does more than it should and spends more than it can continue to.
Gerson and his ilk are right to be scared, even if it isn't clear from what wealthy GOP regulars Paul will get his campaign money. It's not that Paul can't raise big money. While both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum outpaced Rand's father Ron Paul in 2012 in primary votes and being treated as serious contenders, when it came to official campaign contributions, Paul nearly outpaced the two of them combined with his $40 million (though those two did better than Paul in the world of uncoordinated GOP supporting SuperPACS).
Speaking of superrich outsiders, eccentric superscience-minded financier Peter Thiel did, as the New York Times story notes, give over $2.5 million to Endorse Liberty, a SuperPAC ostensibly dedicated to Ron Paul, in the 2012 election cycle. It aimed its money pretty much entirely on a series of YouTube videos. Everyone I talked to in 2012 from either the grassroots or the official Ron Paul campaign thought that despite the Thiel bucks that SuperPAC did pretty much nothing useful or positive for the campaign. Liberty for All, another existing PAC dedicated to what it sees as "liberty candidates" in a Paulite mode, raised and spent $1.7 million in 2012, and boasts of a 90 percent success rate overall and of having won all four federal races it spent on. But that's chump change in the face of a Sheldon Adelson.
It is unclear right now if anyone with megabucks is prepared to do a big uncoordinated SuperPAC push for a Paul presidential run. And given the record of SuperPACs in 2012, it might not make or break him either way.
Still, plenty of disaffected-from-the-establishment Republicans are willing to give to what they think are alternative campaigns (even if that money doesn't always get where they expect). As Open Secrets points out, Paul's campaign committee is still strong with masses of small donors, pulling in over $5 million from small donors since 2009 and hugely outpacing Senate averages.
First quarter 2014 was the second-best fundraising quarter of Sen. Paul's career. (And a presidential race would likely make fans far more generous.) Open Secrets notes that of Paul's $1.4 million first quarter 2014 take, $851,000 was from small donors. They also report that PACs of any sort don't seem to love him much yet—he's pulled in only $14,000 from them so far this year, and just $94,000 over the entire two-year cycle so far.
Whether Paul's opponents like it or not, the past year since his career-defining anti-domestic-drone (and anti-unchecked executive warmaking power) filibuster, Paul has managed to kick ass over his opponents in carving out a distinctly interesting image, one not altogether insalubrious to the mainstream, via earned media, which campaign workers over the years have told me always beats paid media. Paul is a very interesting character to the media, and though one can expect the attention to get rougher as 2015 approaches, it's hard to make him seem completely unsuitable to a wide swath of both Republicans and independents.