Rand Paul: Can The Bucks Start There?

A libertarian-leaning maverick strives to win the money (or just the love) to gain the White House

Rand PaulGage SkidmoreSen. 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 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?

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. 

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  • Brandon||

    So if the Adelsons of the world give to someone else, and Paul gets millions of smaller donations, how will HuffPo spin it to say he's just a pawn of the wealthy?

  • Brandon||

    Also, while Cliche Bandit is embarrassing himself trying to compete with Fist in the links, I'm grabbing the low hanging fruit. First!

  • Protagoronus||

    It is lonely at the top.

  • Muzzle of Bees||

    I got one today. It was nice.

  • The Last American Hero||

    He will be running as a Republican, which by definition in the Huffpo Glossary (3rd Edition, Unabridged) equals being a pawn of the wealthy.

  • ||

    They'll say Paul's support is not real grass roots support, but an astroturf sham created by billionaires and korporashuns to distract everyone from the real grass-roots politician: Washington outsider Hillary Clinton. And sure, she's getting millions from unions, but that's only because all those union members made "contributions."

  • John C. Randolph||

    The huffpo already claims that anyone who's not a millionaire and isn't on team Teleprompter is a brainwashed pawn of the Koch brothers.

    -jcr

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    It's a Cinderella story
    With a tumble of the dice

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUokcJ7sf5Y

  • tom8pnw@yahoo.com||

    I think Rand is someone who will get substantial support form people who think about voting, from those who vote party lines he has much less hope.

  • Westmiller||

    "...preemptively linking Paul with Barry Goldwater's historical defeat in 1964 ..."

    That seems inappropriate, since the primary opposition to Barry was that he would drop nuclear bombs on little girls. Paul has no such foreign policy hurdle: his anti-intervention stance is shared by most Americans.

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    He has the opposite problem, actually. Instead of him nuking little girls they would depict Rand Paul letting Iran nuke little girls.

  • Eric Bana||

    The ugly truth: many voters just vote for a guy they kinda like, or the guy their relevant tribe has anointed, or the guy who says one thing that really resonates with them.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    I worked to get a libertarian on our city council when I was in college. We did kind of half-assed exit polls and I was dumbfounded as person after person admitted to voting a straight party ticket without any consideration for the people for whom they actually voted. Also, a few "I liked his signs."

    Of course, given that there is no straight party libertarian ticket we were soundly defeated.

  • Kevin47||

    He is pretty much my last reason to vote for the Republican party.

  • Will4Freedom||

    ^ This, exept ONLY reason I would vote for the Republican party.

    There was a Rand Paul article on the Blaze yesterday and all the typical... 'we have to vote for the republican that the establishment says can win!'

    I gave that up years ago. My NJ vote doesn't count no matter who I vote for, so I'm voting for the guy/gal who best represents my views.

  • ||

    My NJ vote doesn't count no matter who I vote for, so I'm voting for the guy/gal who best represents my views.

    LOL. So if you were in a state where your vote might matter, you'd send some sort of weird paradoxically principled statement and go with someone who doesn't represent your views?

  • Will4Freedom||

    I guess the way I wrote that, it makes is sound pretty silly, doesn't it.

    I guess I'd still vote my principles, but admit there might be that "twinge" of hesitation if the Repub was "close" to my views, but not perfect... and wondering if my vote might keep the Dem Liberal out of office.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Even if we got Rand elected in 2016 how about this year, we do have some seats up for grabs and some politicians to fire. anyone have thoughts? we are working on getting rid of the wretched Andy Cuomo

  • eyeroller||

    Rand Paul is sort of the worst of both worlds.

    He's bad for the GOP because he talks the semi-libertarian talk that scares a lot of voters.

    He's bad for libertarians because, if elected, he will walk the big-government-Reagan walk.

  • ||

    Rand is a mixed bag. Unlike his father Ron. Rand lost me when he endorsed his fellow Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell.

    It's one thing to say your an agent for change, but actions of change should follow. Rand has difficulty in this area.

  • ULOST||

    Cruz, Paul and Clit-on in the same breath. Seriously? Clinton with "relatively moderate views on taxation and financial regulation." One of these things is not like the other. Where's Rod Serling.

  • andryaa||

    Therefore the butt of the polite feud numerous in the South get had a case of appropriate amnesia also get re-branded the generate of the civic fight as the covert of Predicaments liberty. What they select to conveniently sabbatical absent is it was the Situations faultless or further accurately fancy to rehearse yoke which was in debate - yet to them this is rightful a little item.

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