Rand Paul

Politico Overstates His Dropping Out, Insists Rand Paul-Supporting SuperPAC Chief Edward Crane

But he needs a more libertarian Rand Paul to feel good about asking his friends to give money for him.

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Politico reports this morning that Edward Crane, co-founder and for decades boss at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, has stopped fundraising for his PurplePAC, which announced back in July that it was going to dedicate itself to helping make Rand Paul president.

But Crane was not trying to make some public announcement that he was closing shop on his PAC now. "That guy has it all wrong," Crane says. "We haven't shut down the campaign or PAC."

But the core fact Politico reported is true, it's just not new news: "We haven't been raising money for months, and don't intend to until the campaign takes on a more libertarian tone."

From PurplePAC's official filings at the end of June, they had raised around $1.2 million and spent less than $8,000, all of it on legal fees and logo design. Crane says today he thinks they have around $1.4 million on hand but, unimpressed by Rand's performance, have spent almost nothing yet, just $10,000 dedicated to an online contest to generate libertarian ideas for the campaign.

Crane says he can't see fit to ask his friends to give money for Paul "until he recognizes or his campaign staff recognizes that there are maybe 10 candidates out there and only one has this combination of peace and free enterprise….yet a plurality of Republican voters agree with that point of view."

While Crane admits the last debate performance was an improvement, he still feels there is not enough emphasis on "the NSA and bullshit in the Middle East" and too much on things like Planned Parenthood.

But he hasn't given up and he isn't abandoning the field, and believes that if the campaign focuses on emphasizing Paul's appeal among independents in Iowa, who could if they wished register GOP on the day of the caucus to vote for him, Paul's support could explode there.

"He has to be the peace and free enterprise candidate," Crane insists. "Signing off so early on opposition to the Iran deal was a mistake. Rand needs to bring into focus that a belief in limited government and the free market is completely compatible with skepticism about being the world's policeman." While admitting others might be able to patch together that view from synthesizing various things he's said, "Rand needs to tie it together himself and explain that's what makes his candidacy unique."

Until he does to Crane's satisfaction, though, he doesn't intend to raise more or spend what he has, but he has felt that way all summer, not just now. He could use the SuperPAC cash, he jokes, "if my daughter is running for student Senate, I could spend it on that" though he says he also may end up returning it to his contributors if they want, or support candidates he thinks are better libertarians, such as Rep. Justin Amash.

He hopes, though, that he can in good conscience eventually run a series of 30-second TV ads, perhaps with a movie star,"making this peace and free enterprise pitch" if he believes the official campaign is backing up that message sufficiently to make it have an impact.

Crane had complained to me last month that the official campaign:

"is being run by conservatives; they instinctively don't agree with his libertarianism so they downplay it." Crane sees Paul's current failure to climb in polls as "completely consistent with an unwillingness to discuss issues from a libertarian perspective."

"I'd love to grab Paul by the lapels" and tell him this, Crane says, but given the nature of campaign finance laws and the rules about unaffiliated SuperPACS, "I could go to jail for doing that, which is just absurd."

His interests and those of the official campaign should not, of course, be expected to always align. PurplePAC arose in 2013 to support Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis in Virginia over the Rand-Paul-supported Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

Crane made it clear to me in various conversations for earlier stories that he felt the official campaign did not recognize the value of running Paul as a loud and proud libertarian. (Whether that value is merely to please hardcore libertarian folks such as me and Crane, as opposed to actually helping Rand win elections, is a question I explored at length last month.)

The official comment from Rand Paul's presidential campaign this morning was: "The PACs that were set up to help Rand Paul and have done work to do so remain active and ongoing." Paul had never shown any public sign of appreciating PurplePAC's stated support, though campaigns and superpacs are legally required to stay at arms length.

But as Crane admits, PurplePAC actually hasn't really seen fit to spend in Paul's support yet. (For those interested in the larger weird issues surrounding the arms-length nature of those relationships, see this interesting National Journal article on how campaigns and SuperPACs kinda sorta can work in concert.)

Matt Kibbe, formerly of FreedomWorks, is with another independent Paul-supporting SuperPAC, Concerned American Voters, mostly focusing on on-the-ground grassroots and get out the vote efforts in early state Iowa.

Kibbe tells me this morning that with the $3 million they've already raised, they feel ready for Iowa and hope to fundraise more to expand such operations into Nevada.

Kibbe disagrees that Paul has been insufficiently libertarian, and says that he finds his donor base sounding "energized by Rand's performance in the debates, they are excited to hear more libertarian themes, in everything from criminal justice to marijuana to foreign policy. I don't get the sense things are slowing down. There is still a path to victory, and at any rate [potential Paul donors] are more interested in ideas than politics and they want that voice on the stage."

Despite press reports nearly every day trying to say the Paul campaign is fizzling or ready to quit, Rand Paul himself insists he's "just getting started."

Kibbe says today that he ignores such reports and sees them the result of backstage political machinations. "Rand won't flame out the way Walker did. It's a different dynamic. The idea of having Rand offer those alternative ideas that people really need to hear offers a different value proposition for investors."

Indeed, it has never been clear to me why people even assume that "being sure of victory" is a necessary condition for continuing a presidential campaign, as long as resources are there to continue it. Paul has much to gain in terms of movement and empire building as a politician, as well as a unique set of ideas to push that can and likely will attract cash even from voters who don't believe he will win.

Even Crane agrees Rand isn't going away, and still holds out hope for him. Quitting early is "not who he is. I think he's going to hang in and do better than people realize," especially with Iowa independents.

Whether Rand Paul is being sufficiently (or too) libertarian is something those interested can argue over forever; I don't see an unambiguous answer yet, and when the field is cleared more the distinctions between Rand and the more typical Republican candidate–or Donald Trump–will likely be far more important, and let's hope he makes the most of them when that happens.