Rand Paul, the U.S. senator from Kentucky who was once a legitimate contender for the Republican presidential nomination, dropped out of the race Wednesday, two days after a lackluster showing in the Iowa caucuses.
“It’s been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House, Paul said in a statement announcing the end of his bid. “Today I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of Liberty.”
Paul, a 53-year-old ophthalmologist who had never run for office before his election to the Senate in 2010, risked losing his Senate seat if he tarried too long in the presidential race. He will now turn his attention to winning reelection in Kentucky, where the Democratic mayor of Lexington announced last week he will run against Paul.
Paul, the son of libertarian former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who ran quixotic but ultimately impactful campaigns for president in 2008 and 2012, rose to national prominence in the spring of 2013 after he spoke on the Senate floor for almost 13 hours to protest President Obama’s use of drones to target American citizens overseas.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., surrounded by his family at a caucus night rally at the Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. (Photo: Nati Harnik/AP)
Paul showed considerable creativity in seizing on issues related to civil liberties and foreign policy that cut across partisan lines, raising the prospect that he could build on his father’s constituency in Iowa and elsewhere, bringing in more younger voters as well as mainstream Republicans who saw him as more electable than his father.
Paul also made a point of visiting historically black universities and talked often about the need for the Republican Party to welcome minorities and to expand their party.
But Paul was beset by a number of troubles. His relationship with the Ron Paul libertarian crowd was hurt by his endorsement of Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and further deteriorated as Rand tacked to the center on foreign policy.
At the same time, Paul’s noninterventionist foreign policy, which had seemed current in 2013, grew out of step with the times as the rise of the so-called Islamic State and a spate of terrorist attacks around the world and in the U.S. raised the nation’s anxiety level about national security and pushed civil liberties concerns off the front burner.
And Paul was also not well cut out for the rigors of a presidential campaign. He was a lackadaisical campaigner who — from the early days — failed to impress donors and Republican Party influencers. His decision to wear blue jeans to a Koch brothers event early this year was innocuous in and of itself, but it came to be seen as a sign of something larger, an arrogance and indifference on Paul’s part that indicated a lack of hunger for the presidency and offended the party’s elites.
Paul, in fact, hated to ask for money. His campaign aides and advisers worked on him to improve, and he did. He also improved in the last few debates.
But over the course of the past year, it became ever more clear that if Paul wanted a place of influence in national politics, he was a better fit for the Senate, where there is more space for the debating and hashing out of ideas, and where he can over the long haul craft legislation to address issues of his concern.
Kentucky Republicans are confident that as long as Paul is fully focused on his reelection, he can hold his seat. The senior senator from Kentucky, after all, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and there’s no doubt he was in constant communication with Paul about the need to retain the GOP majority in the Senate.
“I look forward to earning the privilege to represent the people of Kentucky for another term,” Paul said.