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Goodbye, Rand Paul; Goodbye, GOP Dovishness

RIP, Rand Paul, presidential candidate. This morning, the senator from Kentucky suspended his campaign, ending 10 months of voters shouting “Rand! Rand! Rand!” at rallies and presidential debates.

“Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of Liberty,” a statement released by the campaign read. “Across the country thousands upon thousands of young people flocked to our message of limited government, privacy, criminal justice reform and a reasonable foreign policy. Brushfires of Liberty were ignited, and those will carry on, as will I.”

Paul, who is seeking another term in the Senate, ended his campaign a bit below where he started it in national support.


Paul’s campaign was an ideological island in a season dominated by talk of foreign policy interventionism and outsize personalities — his was guided by the unwavering libertarianism that we have all come to expect from his family. And that, most likely, was one thing that kept Paul from making more noise this campaign. Back when he was setting his campaign in motion, in 2013, the Republican Party (voters and officials) was in a much more isolationist mood when it came to foreign policy.

Take terrorism: According to a Pew Research Center survey from December, 71 percent of Republicans said, rather than worrying about anti-terrorism policies restricting civil liberties, “their greater concern” was that they do not go far enough in protecting the country. That was up from 57 percent in January and 38 percent in July 2013.


That Pew poll was taken after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, but even before that, the Republican Party had undergone a major shift. Much of that shift had to do with the rise of the Islamic State group. In August of 2014, for example, Pew found:

Republicans, Democrats and independents all are more likely to say the U.S. does too little to solve world problems, but the shift among Republicans has been striking. Last fall, 52% of Republicans said the U.S. does too much to help solve global problems, while just 18% said it does too little. Today, 46% of Republicans think the U.S. does too little to solve global problems, while 37% say it does too much.

The other 2016 candidates adjusted — or were already hawks — and spent the campaign bashing President Obama’s handling of Islamic State and foreign affairs generally. Paul was the sole dissenter, speaking out — most notably in debates — against a more interventionist foreign policy. In December, my colleague Harry Enten looked at how each candidate was graded by on foreign policy — Paul stands out:

Marco Rubio 31 out of 31 100%
Carly Fiorina 13 out of 13 100
Rick Santorum 24 out of 25 96
Mike Huckabee 19 out of 20 95
Lindsey Graham 56 out of 59 95
Chris Christie 17 out of 18 94
George Pataki 13 out of 14 93
Jeb Bush 25 out of 27 93
Jim Gilmore 10 out of 11 91
Ted Cruz 14 out of 16 88
Ben Carson 17 out of 22 77
John Kasich 15 out of 21 71
Donald Trump 17 out of 31 55
Rand Paul 11 out of 48 23


Paul, who finished in fifth place in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, has made no secret of his frustrations with the contours of this year’s race; he skipped a so called “undercard” debate last month to protest his not making the main stage. He was also facing money difficulties, coming into the new year with only $1.27 million in his campaign coffers and nearly $250,000 in debt. Paul’s campaign was notable on the GOP side for its courting of younger voters, especially on university campuses, and the candidate’s wry voice was no small part of this; he held a “Festivus airing of grievances” against his fellow candidates around the holidays in the tradition of “Seinfeld.”

The political year is far from over for Paul, though — his Senate race in Kentucky is looking like it might not be a cakewalk. The beat goes on, after all.

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Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.