Rare Politics comes from a libertarian-conservative perspective, so naturally we were disappointed when the most libertarian candidate dropped out of the Republican presidential primary.
In his first national interview since leaving the race, I sat down with Senator Rand Paul to look back on his campaign, talk about what went wrong and perhaps most importantly—what the future holds for the liberty movement.
Sen. Paul was upbeat and optimistic, not what you might expect to find in a candidate that fought hard for the nomination but who’s campaign ended with disappointing results.
Rand Paul says despite the fact that his presidential run is over, his liberty message is still winning.
What does he mean?
Rare: You have many passionate supporters, particularly young people, who feel like they don’t have a candidate now that you’re gone. Some still plan to vote for you. Some are looking at other candidates. Some vow to stay home.
This is your first opportunity to talk directly to them since leaving the race—what would you like to say?
Rand Paul: That I was amazed at the outpouring of support, and I think in some ways it wasn’t as well documented by a lot of the media, what kind of support we got from the college students.
The Students for Rand group, I think we had 500 college campuses. It was a big effort. At any point in time in the last couple of weeks, in the Des Moines headquarters, we’d have 300 or 400 college students making phone calls.
I know some of them were probably disappointed that we weren’t able to go on. But we felt like we needed to exceed expectations. We were polling around 5 percent, and we got 5 percent. The good news is we beat several establishment figures, Bush, Kasich, Christie and Fiorina. But, we didn’t feel like we had enough momentum to go on and do better in New Hampshire.
So we had to make that decision really, that’s the U.S. Senate, for now. I’m running for re-election and so I have to continue with that same message and same energy but really on a state level, not the national level.
Rare: So maybe you would recommend them being invested in your senate campaign?
Well they can be, (the senator said, grinning) we’ll still have opportunities for people to come to Kentucky and help us.
But also we want them to continue with the groups they started on the college campuses. Its’ really not so much about an individual, it’s about this liberty movement, which are ideas. And you know, the famous saying ‘ideas have consequences,’ or that ideas are stronger than armies.
That is our hope, that people will get involved in the liberty movement, and that this movement grows over time to someday be dominant enough to have a nominee of a major party.
Rare: In 2014, the New York Times said we might be on the verge of a “libertarian moment” in our politics. When you left the race, critics were eager to say the libertarian moment was over. What do you say to those critics?
Rand Paul: I think they oversimplify things. If you ask what are the issues and ideas that are part of the ‘libertarian moment’ or the liberty moment, I would put in there a constitutional foreign policy or a more reasonable foreign policy. I think we’re winning on that issue.
If you ask the general public now, after the Republican debates and really after a little bit of the Democrat debates: Is it a good idea to have regime change? Is it a good idea to topple Gaddafi in Libya? Are we safer or less safe? Is the region more stable or more chaotic?
I think the facts on the ground—we’re actually winning on that.
If you ask them, should we go into Syria now and topple Assad? Would we be better off? I think now many people are asking the follow up question, which is ‘what happens after Assad?’ Maybe ISIS actually grows stronger or fills that vacuum? Maybe arming the allies of ISIS also helped ISIS to grow stronger?
So I think we’re winning on that debate.
The fact that I didn’t win the election, I don’t think represents whether those ideas are winning. Because in presidential politics, I can’t tell you how many times people come up to say they agree, even people who didn’t vote for me.
Since I’ve been more active in some meetings here in Washington, some people come up to me from both sides who are very complimentary as to the ideas and issues and saying ‘don’t stop talking about foreign policy, don’t stop talking about criminal justice reform.’
So I think we can win the issues battles sometimes and not win an election.
Rare: Do you think you were able to sway the conversation at all? In some ways, it seems like Donald Trump killed it.
Rand Paul: I think he dominated the superficial news cycle. And the superficial news cycle is something that is becoming more and more superficial over time, where I don’t think people are really debating ideas. He’s winning in that venue because he was on TV 25 more times than the rest of us combined. So people find that intriguing somehow, but I don’t think he’s winning any kind of issues battle or any kind of ideas battle. I think we are winning on that.
I can tell you as I traveled across the country, many of the people, even some who did not support the presidential campaign are already calling up and saying ‘you know what, I didn’t want this to mean that I didn’t support you or the issues’ and many of those people are coming back now and are saying ‘because you’ve been a leader on criminal justice reform, on a more reasonable foreign policy, I want to support you in the senate.’