Rand Paul’s Money Troubles

For a while now I’ve been puzzled by Rand Paul’s behavior. It looked like he was cruising into the presidential cycle having blurred his distinctive views–especially on foreign policy–enough to keep the entire GOP from anathemizing him like the Old Man, while keeping enough edge on certain issues to support his unusual electability rationale as the candidate of the Cool Kids and maybe even some African-Americans. That he did another high-profile filibuster on NSA data collection seemed a bit excessive from a purely political point of view. But the real shocker was his gratuitous slam of virtually the entire Republican Party for “creating ISIS” by their militaristic meddling in the Middle East. It was like attacking the Keebler Elves for high diabetes rates: militaristic meddling in the Middle East is what Republicans do!

But today along comes Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt with a very clear explanation of why the candidate of the Cool Kids is losing his own cool and re-establishing his family’s bad name in GOP circles:

In a presidential campaign defined by billionaire sugar daddy donors, Rand Paul has a problem: He doesn’t seem to have one.

While his rivals cultivate wealthy backers who will pump millions of dollars into their candidacies, Paul has struggled to find a similar lifeline. It’s led to considerable frustration in his campaign, which, amid rising concerns that it will not be able to compete financially, finds itself leaning heavily on the network of small donors who powered his father’s insurgent White House bids.

Isenstadt proceeds to go through a whole series of examples of rich people Team Paul thought would be in their corner but aren’t for one reason or another. So like the cobbler whose children went without shoes, the maximum tribune of capitalism in American politics cannot get his intended beneficiaries to cough up enough ducats to keep him competitive in this, the most expensive presidential nominating cycle ever.

Not even two months into his presidential campaign, Paul is scrambling to compete with opponents who have established fundraising vehicles underwritten by well-heeled contributors. Jeb Bush has tapped his family’s formidable network of donors, a wide-ranging list of names that includes real estate developer Mel Sembler and Anheuser-Busch distributor John Nau, to fund a super PAC that’s expected to raise an historic $100 million by the end of this month. Rubio has won the backing of Norman Braman, a Miami auto dealer who’s expected to pour anywhere from $10 million to $25 million into his bid. Ted Cruz is expected to receive around $30 million of support from Robert Mercer, a New York hedge fund manager.

And here’s the ultimate insult:

Even Rick Santorum, who barely registers in polls, is expected to have a deep-pocketed benefactor: Foster Friess, a businessman who helped keep Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid alive, has said he will donate again.

Thus, says Isendstadt, Paul has to return to The Revolution for financial support:

Paul is compensating by turning to his grass-roots supporters who fueled his national rise, bombarding them with pleas for cash. In recent days, many have highlighted Paul’s filibuster-style stand against the PATRIOT Act — opposition that has made him a hero to libertarians. “The clock is ticking,” read one appeal sent on Tuesday, a few days after his Senate theatrics. “I need to know you stand with me.”

I have no idea if Isenstadt is right about all this. In examining Paul’s money troubles, he even returns to the Grooming Issue we heard about back when the junior senator from Kentucky allegedly insulted attendees at a Koch Donor Network event by showing up in scuffed boots and blue jeans.

But in general, it makes sense that Rand Paul’s long march to Republican respectability might hit the wall at some point, inclining him to return to the “Liberty” constituency that never let the Old Man down. If Paul does land him a billionaire or two and suddenly stops espousing rank heresy, then we’ll know Isenstadt had it right.

UPDATE: This new ad from Paul’s Super-PAC does not indicate much interest in getting along with the rest of the GOP, does it?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.