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Every Race Needs Its Fred Thompson

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Chait on the failure of the campaign of America’s Foremost Civil Libertarian and the True Progressive Alternative in 2016 to even get off the canvas:

David Weigel and Ben Terris report the campaign’s explanations for its lack of success, which Paul and his minions gamely present as a shrewd long-term plan. Is it bad that Paul has fallen out of the public debate? No, no: “they insist there is minimal downside to being out of the media glare six months before the Iowa caucuses.” Paul, they report, has skipped two Citizens United “freedom summits” and the RedState Gathering. But that’s okay, Paul says, because, “The message of his state supporters is the message from the campaign: Anyone doing more than Paul is probably phoning it in at his real job.” If there’s one thing voters will reward, it’s a sterling record of Senatorial vote-attendance.

Paul is presenting his failure to attract attention as a reflection not of his love for spring break but rather a principled aversion to campaign high jinks. The candidate recently offered, with a touch of pathos, that he would not set himself on fire to compete with Donald Trump — but he’s not above cheeseball antics like setting the tax code on fire.

Perhaps Paul’s problem is that he started off setting things on fire, and, since his election in 2010, has spent his half-decade in office tamping down the flames to make himself acceptable to the party Establishment. Paul’s highest priority has been rendering himself acceptable to the Republican elite, by trimming his positions on issues like Israel and defense spending. Instead of bringing together activists and the Establishment, he has failed to reassure the latter, and bored the former. Paul has no principled aversion to facilitating the influence of the very rich over the political system. He’s just lazy and bad at it.

I think this is right. Paul never had any chance of winning the nomination because the deviations from conservative orthodoxy that briefly made him the darling of people on the left desperate for any pretext to urge people to vote against Democrats have no serious constituency within the Republican Party. Abandoning most of these idiosyncrasies to appeal to actually existing Republican voters hasn’t worked, but maintaining them wouldn’t have worked either. He was always going to be drawing dead against orthodox reactionaries like Walker and Rubio and Jeb!

What’s made his campaign epically disastrous rather than a mere eccentric also-ran is his lack of interest in fundraising and stroking rich people — you know, the stuff that modern campaigning consists of. You can be quarter-hearted about that stuff and win federal elections as a Republican in Kentucky, but competitive campaigns are another matter. And the combination of his disinterest and his abandonment of the quirks that once made him the most overrated politician in America is particularly pathetic. If you’re going to run an unserious vanity campaign, you might as well stick to your alleged principles rather that tossing them overboard to attract voters you’re not going to make any serious attempt to attract anyway. Unless your commitment to these principles was puddle-deep in the first place, of course.

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