The past few days haven’t been kind to Rand Paul.
On Monday, Fox Business declared that the Republican presidential candidate didn’t make the polling cutoff for Thursday’s GOP primetime debate. Instead, Paul would be relegated to an earlier and decidedly less prestigious debate, an event that Senator Lindsey Graham jokingly nicknamed the “happy hour” debate. (Paul reacted to the bad news by sending an email to supporters with the subject line: “Are you kidding me?”).
It’s quite a blow. Paul has struggled to gain traction in a crowded GOP field, as the voices of candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have drowned out competitors. Thursday would mark the first time the senator has not appeared on the main stage. Since Paul needs all the attention he can get, the event could spark a downward spiral for his campaign.
Paul isn’t going down without a fight. The 2016 contender initially vowed to boycott the debate. (“I won’t participate in anything that’s not the first tier because we have a first tier campaign,” he told CNN on Monday.) By Wednesday, however, Paul was engaging in a pressure campaign to get back onto the main stage. Deploying a tactic used by other candidates to gin up sympathy, including Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders, Paul launched an attack on the political establishment, blaming the Republican Party for his exclusion from the debate. “They have been saying for months they’re going to narrow the field, but I don’t think it’s the job of the establishment in the Republican Party to decide who is and who isn’t [in],” Paul complained in an interview on MSNBC.