Rand Paul in Iowa: Transcendent Campaigning, Transcendental Meditation For the Win?


While the Ames Straw Poll is dead and thus loses its ability to let a few hundred overheated Iowans shape the "campaign narrative" for a couple of days, Iowa's first-round caucus votes are still the first place any real voting is done in the GOP presidential race. Unlike in the past, this time the actual delegate votes will have to bear some set relation to the presidential preference votes on caucus day.

The Iowa Republican has some on-the-ground reports about Paul's operation, noting that Paul hasn't been heavily hitting lots of multi-candidate dog and pony shows in the state so far—but has personally campaigned in 19 counties, "What's more impressive is how well orchestrated the Paul campaign events are," reporter Craig Robinson writes. "The mechanics the Paul campaign is deploying in Iowa was easy to see. First, the Paul campaign is wisely using Eventbrite to ticket their campaign events. Getting people to pre-register only makes the task of collecting data from the event easier."

A sense of the feel of a folksy Paul campaign stop, down a gravel road in Poweshiek County:

As Paul arrived to the venue and talked briefly to the event host and posed for pictures with the Lang family, Steve Grubbs, who signed on with Paul a year ago to help lead his effort in Iowa, had everyone in attendance line up so they could meet the candidate personally and pose for a quick snapshot taken by Grubbs himself. After shaking hands and posing for pictures, the event kicked off with a video of Paul's wife Kelley, who talked about how they met and the life they have together. Paul then took center stage, delivered his remarks, and took some questions. Before the event closed, Grubbs grabbed the microphone and enticed people to join the campaign, and if they pledged their support today, they got a snazzy Rand Paul Iowa lapel pin.

Robinson analogizes Paul's style and message not to Rand's father Ron (who won an overwhelming number of the state's delegates, though not the caucus day presidential preference poll that set the narrative for the campaign) but to Steve Forbes, who came in a strong second against George W. Bush there in 2000.

Robinson hypes Grubbs, Paul's Iowa man and Forbes' in 2000 (and a late addition to Herman Cain's operation in 2012), as a wizard at "getting people to attend events and then getting people to volunteer to get involved in a campaign." 

Robinson writes:

The media often wonders if someone like Paul could be a mainstream Republican candidate because of his views, but I think what makes a candidate mainstream is how they approach a campaign and if they are capable of having a broad audience. Paul has succeeded in doing both in Iowa, and you are kidding yourself if you don't think that Grubbs is partly responsible.

I've attended campaign events for most of the Republican candidates, and most of them are pretty laid back affairs, which if fine, but Rand Paul's campaign events are better than anything I witnessed in the last caucus cycle and are at the top of the class this cycle…..

Paul's campaign events, besides being really well attended, serve a number of purposes. First, they create an opportunity for people to get to meet him via the photo line and question and answer period. Second, the event educates people about his life and history. Third, each event ends with a strong pitch to join the campaign. If a campaign isn't doing those things, it's simply wasting time….

The question for Paul has always been whether he can grow his support beyond what his father did in Iowa in 2008 and 2012. I think that's easily doable and likely to happen if he keeps running the type of campaign he currently is in Iowa. That's good news for Paul, and it's something that should make the rest of the field very nervous.

Former Reason-er David Weigel, who is returning to the Washington Post this month, writes for Bloomberg about the curious phenomenon of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi stronghold in the heart of Iowa, foursquare for transcendental meditation and the Paul family:

Fairfield, the center of Transcendental Meditation in the U.S., is a hotbed of support for Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. Earth & Water regulars Jeff Shipley and Roger Leahy helped turn it and surrounding Jefferson County into a stronghold for Paul's father, Ron, the Texas congressman who came in a close third in the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Now they're using Earth & Water as a base to help Rand get all the way to the White House. "There's a self-reliant attitude here," says Shipley. "The people who want to end the wars and end NSA spying are the same people who want to be able to sell raw milk."….

With the Republican field more fragmented than ever, Iowa presents Paul with a chance to notch a win by mobilizing anti-establishment voters while his rivals divvy up the Republican base. It's not clear that everyone who went for Ron Paul will automatically Stand With Rand. "He's got some new position every week," says Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer in Fairfield who usually votes for Democrats. "He needs to get his stories straight." Thicke says what drew him to the elder Paul was a sense that he would fight for what he believed. "Ron Paul was the only one running for president not saying that Muslims hate us because of our freedoms," he says. "He was saying they hate us because we're killing them. That seems obvious, but no one else was saying it. I caucused for him because I thought he was going to put some pressure on his right-wing buddies."

Rand says he's ready to win Fairfield over. "There's a strong liberty movement there," he says. "From what I understand, there's a strong aversion to war." In May he addressed voters from the same town square that his father had. He denounced Obama-era military interventions and spent a long while talking about the paranoia that grew out of the war on terror. He invoked the story of Richard Jewell, the hero of the 1996 Atlanta bomb plot who became, unjustly, a suspect. Americans "are so afraid of terrorists that they're ready to ship their neighbor to Guantanamo Bay," he said. A Paul administration, he promised, would defuse that fear. "We've got to believe in justice," Paul said. The crowd cheered. "I'm hoping we can lead the way again," says Leahy. "I'm hoping we can get 75 percent of the vote for Rand Paul this time."

Here's a brief edited excerpt from my 2012 book Ron Paul's Revolution about the Fairfield effect for the elder Paul's campaigns:

Ron Paul spoke that night in Fairfield, Iowa, a small town with a classic square, green and perfect in the cool golden-hour light. Statues of old men giving sage advice, apparently, to young ones sit near benches, the square circled by old brick storefronts. Paul appeared in the last hour of mellow dying daylight, underneath a white cupola. Between two trees, a spray-painted Ron Paul rEVOLution banner hung. Four hundred or so people were there to hear him. Fairfield is most famous for being the home of the Maharishi University of Management and a huge Transcendental Meditation center. It's in Jefferson County, the only county in America in which Ron Paul actually won the popular caucus vote in 2008.


A Ron Paul activist from that county explained in a post on the Ron Paul Forums site how they did it. He credited a personal Ron Paul appearance, a great meetup, a list of 150 local supporters, booths at local farmers' markets and art walks; an office on the town square giving away Paul material; hitting church lots with Paul material; "a focus on local areas of concern, particularly health freedom, restoring civil liberties, opposition to the Patriot Act, restoring the Constitutional limited Federal government, a humble, non-interventionist foreign policy, etc. . . . We directed our efforts mostly to our friends, who were largely Democrats, Independents, or non-political folks. We tried to win over Obama and Edwards supporters, in fact some of our ads contrasted Ron Paul with them. We made a strong effort to get people to register Republican just for voting for Ron." He stressed that they did not do much outreach to traditional conservatives or call Republican voters lists, and "we did not focus on Ron Paul's positions on abortion or immigration (unless asked about them)."

Four years later in Fairfield Paul had attracted families, gray-ponytailed bikers, rockabilly couples, pairs of grandmothers and grandchildren, young dreadlocked men, eager teen girls….

How many of us were here last time he spoke in Fairfield, in 2007, he asked? About a sixth of the crowd cheers. It isn't as if stragglers to the Ron Paul train missed anything then that they won't get now. He's been delivering pretty much the same message the same way for thirty-five years, he said. The difference now is that the country is coming our way….

On this beautiful day, in front of a happy and enthusiastic crowd, the lightness and cheeriness in the man came out; he was blithe and light and falling back on the light ironies in his style. He tipped his hat to the users and marketers of nutritional supplements, and limned the far reaches of his own radicalism: "Why, I'm so radical I think you have the right to drink raw milk!"

There were some populist nods mixed in—Paul's libertarianism never plays to elite sensibilities, despite the philosophy's reputation as special pleading for the interests of plutocrats. Bankers got the bailouts, he reminded us, while the middle class lost its jobs and homes…..

He played the apocalyptician a bit. The official consumer price index (CPI) can't be trusted, nor can official unemployment rates. Things are worse than they are telling us. The middle class is being wiped out before our eyes. And the violence around the world today—the unrest in the European street over fiscal problems—could hit us, too, as the fiat and debt system crumbles. But we need to lose the delusion that somehow war can be good for the economy….

He's a Republican willing to say that America is no longer the richest or freest country on earth—perhaps the unpatriotic heresy that gets standard-issue GOP voters even angrier at him than talking about blowback. Another revolution is needed—"an intellectual revolution, not a violent one. We have to change minds and attitudes. Teachers and writers must lead the way."

In other Paul news, a Politico report from a (largely shielded from the press) confab of Sheldon Adelson's Republican Jewish Coalition finds Paul absent—though invited!—and very much not the topic of conversation.

Why? Speculation is either that his attempts to ameliorate the feeling he was anti-Israel have succeeded, or that the RJC folk don't see him as a serious challenger worth worrying about any more. Adelson seems so far to be sticking by a promise Paul says Adelson made to him to not spend money trying to knock him off specifically.

See my July Reason feature on Rand Paul's studied strategic  ambiguity when it comes to foreign policy for more insight on all that.