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Rand Paul vs. the money men
If he runs in 2016, the anti-war Republican will face a tsunami of well-heeled opposition
 
Cashing in may be tough.
Cashing in may be tough. Illustration by Sarah Eberspacher | Photos courtesy AP Photo/Susan Walsh, and Thinkstock

Hawkish Republicans and hawkish Republican donors considered Ron Paul a nuisance, though occasionally a useful and amusing one. Rand Paul, on the other hand, is a real political talent. He is less stiffly ideological than his father. He more easily translates his libertarian instincts into words the GOP base understands.

And that means that Paul the son is a threat to the hawkish wing of the GOP. If it looks like he could win more than a few primaries in 2016, chances are he'll face a tidal wave of money from neocon donors opposing him.

Last month Zeke Miller reported on the speakers at the Republican Jewish Coalition who talked about Rand Paul in a kind of code. GOP hopefuls offered the usual euphemisms about fighting "a rising tide of isolationism" in their party, or pumping America's "need to be engaged." Translated roughly: "When the time and the checks come, I'll put a knife in Rand's larynx and make a big show of it." Are you not entertained?

The donors that spoke off the record were even more explicit about their willingness to take Paul down. From Miller's report:

Several prominent GOP donors at the conference suggested that [Sheldon] Adelson, who spent more than $100 million backing Newt Gingrich and Romney in 2012, is likely to spend vast sums against Paul if he appears to be well positioned in the Republican primaries. Adelson's spending is largely motivated by his strong concern for Israel, and Paul's positions may well put a target on his back. [TIME]

For Adelson, $100 million is a small fraction of his estimated $37.5 billion net worth. And with a Supreme Court very friendly to blowing by limits on political cash, Adelson could go wild. The strategy is already being field tested in the midterms. Paul-like GOP congressmen in the House are already seeing how hard the GOP establishment will push to take them out. For example, Walter Jones and Justin Amash, two reliably anti-war Republicans, are facing well-funded primary challengers.

If I were Adelson, and I considered it desperately important to keep one of America's major parties closer to my hawkishly pro-Israel views, I would simply give a Ted Cruz-aligned super PAC $200 million at the start of the next election and pledge to give it $200 million more should that money be needed. Let Cruz's money advantage make him the more attractive "populist Tea Party alternative" to the GOP's establishment candidates. Save a few hundred million more and dangle it in front of every other GOP aspirant but Paul and watch the field unify in their opposition to the Kentucky senator and his libertarian policies. Just make it rain and watch GOP polls contort themselves.

Considerably less than $100 million could temporarily rent a huge chunk of conservative-leaning media outlets. Do you remember the way conservative site Breitbart went on a crazy binge of pro-Trump articles? Adelson's wealth, properly channeled, could make much of the dollar-hungry conservative web, fueling wall-to-wall coverage of Paul's gaffes and speculative coverage about recreational drug use.

Money can make an unflattering campaign story: "Paul lagging in funds." And money can amplify that story: Conservatives doubting Paul can overcome money hurdles.

Perhaps the Paul camp would welcome such a unified opposition. After all, it would grant his us-vs-them fundraising campaigns quite a bit of legitimacy. Surely, his grassroots-savvy team could light a few money-bomb campaigns with that. But does even Paul believe that a presidential campaign can run on $100 checks sent in by hepped-up liberty advocates?

To win, Paul and his anti-interventionist cadres must develop a fundraising apparatus as well-organized, as active, and as deep-pocketed as the one he faces. Until the media is buzzing about "Paul bundlers," "Paul angels," and "Paul-billionaires," I wouldn't bet on him winning the GOP nomination.

 
Michael Brendan Dougherty is senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is the founder and editor of The Slurve, a newsletter about baseball. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, ESPN Magazine, Slate and The American Conservative.

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