Why Rand Paul's Presidential Campaign Is Flailing

In November of last year, former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele declared Kentucky Senator Rand Paul the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for 2016. In that declaration he was joined by the Atlantic's Peter Beinart, who cited Paul's iconoclastic leadership on issues like the drug war and NSA spying.

Flash-forward to August 2015. The Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows Paul hovering at 4.5 percent. The latest Public Policy Polling Iowa poll has him at 3 percent. His campaign is hemorrhaging support and his allies are swamped in scandals. What happened?

Losing Libertarians

Paul's first asset was his lineage. As the son of Ron Paul, the famous Republican congressman who ran for president under both the Libertarian and GOP banners, he had a natural base full of energy and creativity to work with.

But slowly, Paul's effort to neutralize the country's pro-Israel Lobby and court Christian evangelicals has embittered that base. He has announced his opposition to President Obama's Iran deal, leading a group of libertarians in Los Angeles to literally burn Rand Paul  campaign materials. Leading libertarian conservatives like scholar Tom Woods and long-time activist and former Paul Sr. chief of staff Lew Rockwell were pained by the Kentucky senator's debate performance, pointing out that he had jettisoned many of his previously anti-interventionist viewpoints. After all, just four years ago, Paul was saying he'd rather send professors to Iran than bombs.

Throwing Red Meat To People Who Are Already Full

So if Paul isn't a libertarian Republican anymore, what is he? He has attempted to morph into a more Marco Rubio-esque candidate — a fresh face with all of the same views. He joined in the GOP campaign against Planned Parenthood. He took a literal saw to the tax code. Hreplaced his prior critique of American military overreach with condemnations of the lack of American military overreaction to Benghazi.

The problem is, he's feeding red meat to people who are already full. The typical Republican voter is loving the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz; what Paul offers simply does not stand out.

The Downfall

Presidential primaries are tumultuous races, with candidates rising and falling rapidly. Right now, Paul is falling.

Jesse Benton, the long-time Paul camp aide who is running a pro-Paul super PAC, was just indicted along with several others on charges related to a pay-for-play endorsement scheme in his father's campaign.

Paul picked an awkward fight with the GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, being virtually the only candidate to actually attack him in the Fox News debate, and then later for his incivility.While there's a lot of merit in trying to shut down Trump's bellicose campaign, it isn't doing a whole lot for the senator. He got the least talking time in the debate, with Trump getting more than twice as much time.

Finally, on Fox News Sunday, he offered a bizarre explanation for income inequality. “The thing is, income inequality is due to some people working harder and selling more things,” he explained to host Chris Wallace. “If people voluntarily buy more of your stuff, you'll have more money."

It was a rare flash of his extreme-right libertarian philosophy, but it wasn't the more popular kind, like his campaigning against the NSA and drug war that lit up much of his popularity of 2013 and 2014. He was more or less saying that Americans who haven't been welcomed into the ranks of the rich are losers. It's probably particularly galling to the black voters he has been trying so hard to court. A wealth gap up more tha10 times can't be chalked up to laziness.

The Paul campaign is flailing, disappointing the ideological supporters of his father and failing to appeal to the hardcore nativist and warmongering base of the GOP. Paul, who was once the hottest ticket in his party's presidential field, has shown up to the dance without a partner. It remains to be seen if he can pick up the beat.

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