Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Like Father, Like Son? Rand Paul Takes A Hit Among Republicans, as Americans Grow More Hawkish on ISIS

After riding high for a while, Rand Paul's primary numbers return to mediocre in the wake of renewed interest in international affairs.

Former Congressman Ron Paul ran twice for President, and never attracted more than 11% of Republican primary voters nationally. He never won a single contest, in either 2008 or 2012. His best statewide performance came in the form of a caucus, in the small state of Maine, where he won just 36% of the vote, losing to Mitt Romney with 38%.

This poor performance shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, especially considering the senior Paul was never your typical Republican primary candidate for President (being a renowned isolationist and 9/11 truther).

Unfortunately for Dr. Paul's son, Rand, the political atmosphere in which he is likely to launch a 2016 presidential bid promises to be more foreign policy focused than the two his father ran in. And Rand has done very little to distance himself from his father's controversial views on international affairs, even as Americans, and particularly Republicans, become more willing to get involved in the festering situation in Iraq.

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but it just so happens that as American awareness of ISIS and the dangers they pose at home and abroad rises, Sen. Rand Paul's GOP primary numbers suffer. It has been over one year since I wrote about Senator Rand Paul's initial rise among Republican voters, in the wake of an old-fashioned filibuster that lit up social media. But his standing has deteriorated since then. Consider the chart below, which documents every national or state Republican presidential primary poll taken since the end of June (when the first national surveys on Americans' views towards ISIS began appearing):

Of the 12 state or national GOP presidential primary polls taken over the last two months (AND that have surveyed the race more than once), Sen. Rand Paul has dropped in ALL but ONE. In the most recent USA Today/Suffolk poll of the Iowa Caucus, he went from being tied for second place in April, to tied for fourth in late August. In a three week old survey of Rand's home-state of Kentucky, what was once a commanding lead over the entire GOP field last Christmas, was reduced to just seven points.

In the most recent national survey of the 2016 GOP presidential field from McClatchy/Marist, Rand Paul put up his worst showing of the six times Marist has been in the field since 2013. A late-July CNN poll found something similar - of the seven times CNN has polled the question since last year, Paul's recent 12% showing is his worst. The same can be said for a late-June Quinnipiac national survey finding Paul at 11%, his worst showing of the five times Quinnipiac has asked the question since 2013.

PPP recently asked Arkansas Republicans about their primary preferences, and found support for Rand Paul had eroded from 13% in April to just 7% in August. The same thing happened in neighboring Mississippi, where Paul dipped from 12% to 6% as of mid-July. In Florida, he dropped from 14% in April, to his worst Quinnipiac Poll showing to date of 8% in mid-July.

In other words, the trend seems pretty clear - Rand Paul, for whatever reason, has seen his support among Republican primary voters slip from his standing earlier this year and last. As it just so happens, this conspicuous polling collapse coincides with new found Republican support for involvement in Iraq over ISIS, even as Rand publicly stakes out positions at odds with recent mainstream Republican opinion of Iraqi foreign policy.

In June, just as Americans were being made aware of the extent of ISIS advancement in Iraq, Rand Paul wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal suggesting America should not choose sides in the battle between Shiites and Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Yet just a couple of days later, a CBS/NYT poll found that a solid majority of Republicans (52%) felt the United States has a responsibility to do something about the violence in Iraq caused by ISIS. Only 42% said we do not. A Gallup poll taken at about the same time found Republican support for military action in Iraq to combat militants at 52%. Opposition stood at 45%.  Finally, an ABC/Washington Post poll from mid-June found Republicans supported air strikes against Sunni insurgents by 20 points, 58-38%. In other words, whether or not Rand Paul was ready to "choose sides" in the Iraqi Civil War, American Republicans clearly were.

At the start of July, Paul was under fire again for claiming the Obama Administration had allied with ISIL in Syria. Then came a second WSJ op-ed piece, this time lambasting Hillary Clinton for being a "war-hawk," and adding: "... America cannot police or solve every problem across the globe." This, just days after American journalist James Foley was decapitated by a member of ISIS.

Yet even as Paul made these statements in the lead up to present day, Republican opinion appeared to be turning further against his foreign policy proclamations. A super-majority of Republicans in a recent USA Today/Pew Research poll said they supported U.S. airstrikes against Iraqi militants (71% to be exact). Even a majority of Democrats (54%) and Independents (50%) were on board with that. But not Mr. Paul, apparently. In the same survey, 57% of Republicans said they feared the US would not do enough to stop the militants in Iraq, while just 34% of GOPers felt the US would go too far in stopping Iraqi militants. Also, in the USA Today/Pew poll, Republicans say by a 61-28% margin that the US has a responsibility to do something about the violence in Iraq. At about the same time, an ABC/Washington Post poll found a whopping 61-32% of Republicans supported air strikes against Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

So, you see, these numbers put Rand Paul in a bit of a pickle. He's come out strongly as the "non-interventionist" in the race, even enticing Democrats to pull out an old GOP attack line from the 2004 presidential race to label Paul as the "blame America" candidate who wants to pull back from the world. But given the obvious growing sense that the world is becoming a more dangerous place, what with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the radical Islamic take-over of much of Syria and Iraq, it seems as if Sen. Paul's timing couldn't be any worse. His polling drop over the last two months reflects this.

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