Matt Drudge is one of the most influential conservatives on the Internet. And he's taken a shine to Sen. Rand Paul.
The purveyor of the Drudge Report is a very influential person among plugged-in conservatives. He has also often given positive coverage to Paul for his stances on civil liberties, linking to news reports about the Kentucky senator. For Paul, this creates a free conservative-media advantage that some of his primary opponents won't always get.
Like Paul, Drudge appears to fall on the side of personal liberty in the debate over national-security apparatus. It's also a stance that sets Paul apart from the otherwise hawkish field of Republican presidential contenders. On March 7, 2013, Paul was in the midst of a filibuster against drone strikes on U.S. soil. Drudge Report's banner read, "RANDPAGE: HOUR 8," then, later in the day, "DRONE WARS: RAND STANDS!"
Later that year, Drudge criticized Republicans who supported the National Security Agency's surveillance program. "Why would anyone vote Republican?" he tweeted at the time. "Raised taxes; marching us off to war again; approved more NSA snooping. WHO ARE THEY?!"
Flash forward to last Sunday, when Paul once again took to the Senate floor for a (self-described) filibuster, this time to protest the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and NSA spying capabilities. "RAND'S PATRIOT DAY," the Drudge banner blared. Drudge himself tweeted a video of Paul on the Senate floor with the comment, "Rand's most compelling speech of campaign. Big stuff in country that's sadly moving away from freedom!"
The love fest between Drudge and Paul is mutual.
"I think one of the things about Matt Drudge that's probably made him so successful is that he doesn't live in Washington and he's not part of the Washington establishment," Paul said of Drudge, who owns two houses in the Miami area, in a recent Breitbart interview. "I think that if anybody is tapped into the grassroots of people who believe in limited government, it's Matt Drudge. We're excited that he tweets out and is supportive of our fight to keep the government from collecting all of our phone records."
Drudge did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but Paul's camp did.
"Matt Drudge understands the importance of fighting and stopping big government. His wide reach is unmatched and he's able to set the agenda for other news outlets. Matt Drudge leads, others follow," Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul, told National Journal. "Senator Rand Paul shares the same concerns in stopping illegal NSA overreach as Matt Drudge and as the vast majority of Americans."
Drudge's readership skews almost entirely American, heavily Republican, and older than Internet users who get their news from Facebook. A 2012 study found that 41 percent of Drudge readers identify as Republicans—a higher share of conservatives than other big news sites. That said, people who read Drudge religiously are much more likely to be Republican primary voters. So if Drudge deems one Republican candidate deserving of more positive or negative coverage than the rest of the field, it carries enormous influence on the small subset of the population that determines the Republican presidential nominee.
Drudge Report is the most influential news aggregator on the political Internet. Business Insider has estimated the site to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. With the help of one or two other people, Drudge updates the famously bare-bones site throughout the day with ALL-CAPS headlines and links to news outlets. It receives 2 million daily unique visitors and roughly 700 million monthly page views, according to Intermarkets. The Associated Press website receives more than half of its traffic from Drudge. Aside from search and social, the Drudge Report was the No. 1 traffic referrer to CNN, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Politico, and National Journal.
Last year, stories about Paul got more Drudge hits than any of his potential Republican primary competitors, save for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who earned much attention for the Bridgegate scandal. More recently, Drudge—who has a fraught history with the Clinton family—has exhibited a fascination with Martin O'Malley, one of Clinton's Democratic opponents.
While he may not be as influential as the Sheldon Adelsons or the Tom Steyers of the world, Drudge plays an important role in promoting the candidates and causes he deems important—and ignoring the ones he doesn't—no matter where the polls stand. People who are plugged in to political news read Drudge Report, and the Drudge Report wants those people to read about Paul. It's a helpful positive feedback loop for someone trying to generate buzz for his presidential campaign.
It's impossible to quantify the Drudge effect on Paul's presidential prospects. But the website's support is one more example that, perhaps of any Republican contender in 2016, Paul is the best at making headlines and keeping the media spotlight on himself. More than any of his primary opponents, he is a master of messaging himself.
How the Drudge Report covers the 2016 election—and how the election unfolds in reaction to which news stories gain traction online—will be fascinating to watch. For Matt Drudge, it's great for business. And for Rand Paul, it's great for publicity.