Ron Paul’s supporters, a finicky and purist bunch, have proved less transferable to Rand Paul than the campaign assumed. In Iowa, several prominent former Ron Paul supporters, including state Senator Jason Schultz, are backing Cruz. This week, the New York Times reported that Rand Paul was beginning to win over some formerly leery Ron Paul fans—a strikingly late conversion of a group he thought he could take for granted. Many Ron Paul supporters have been alienated by Rand Paul’s gestures to the establishment, particularly his partnership with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose reelection he endorsed and campaigned for last year. In blocking the reauthorization of the Patriot Act last week, Paul antagonized McConnell, but won points with libertarians for proving he could stand up to the leader.
Unlike Paul’s 2013 filibuster against drones, which brought him wide acclaim and highlighted his political creativity, his speech on surveillance last week was largely viewed as a political stunt aimed at thrusting him into the spotlight and goosing his lagging fundraising. That’s perhaps inevitable—Paul is a candidate now, as he wasn’t the last time—and perhaps unfair, as he has a long track record on the issue. But it highlights how his image has changed, from that of a passion-driven truth-teller, like his father, to that of a politically minded triangulator. Confronted with the accusation, Paul displayed another unfortunate tendency by lashing out at his critics, saying that those who oppose him “secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.” (He later backed off and acknowledged that the statement was “hyperbole.”)
Gaffes like these have convinced many GOP graybeards that Paul isn’t ready for prime time. And his attempts to penetrate the donor classes have not been well received. The billionaire Koch brothers are closely aligned with Paul philosophically, but they have reportedly not been impressed with his performance as a candidate and are disinclined to back him financially. Other big donors Paul has courted have decided to support other candidates instead, according to Politico, while the legion of small-dollar online donors who kept his father afloat have been less generous this time around.
The failure to enlist Peter Thiel, the enigmatic Silicon Valley venture capitalist who gave Ron Paul $2.6 million, has particularly shocked Paulworld. Jesse Benton, a longtime adviser to both Pauls who is now running the Rand Paul-boosting America’s Liberty super PAC, acknowledged that Thiel’s refusal was a blow. “From what I understand, he’s just got a little donor fatigue, and he’s sitting this one out for now,” Benton told me. “Obviously, we’re big fans of his, and we hope to get him back in the fold.”
Benton admitted the campaign has experienced some turbulence, but said that was to be expected. “Rand is not going to be the nominee by running a bland, status-quo campaign,” he said. “That’s Jeb Bush’s campaign to run. Rand’s path to the nomination is a Silicon Valley approach, a disruptive force in politics and the GOP that shakes things up and builds a new coalition going forward.” That’s an inherently difficult thing to do, Benton said, but he believes Paul is pulling it off, and “he continues to have as good a chance as anyone to win the nomination.”