Here’s What Rand Paul Needs To Do In The Fifth Debate To Bring Himself Off The Brink Of Defeat
As candidates prepare for Tuesday's fifth Republican debate, one has the most to lose — including participation in the debate itself. To keep his campaign running Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, will need some more gas. The quirky libertarian-leaning conservative has not been polling well. In current polls he averages at just under 2 percent support nationwide, which puts him in ninth place and far behind leading candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson. Luckily for him, he's still within striking distance of averaging 4 percent in New Hampshire, which would qualify him for the debate despite the low national numbers.
If he doesn't make a strong showing in Las Vegas, he could further jeopardize participation in future debates and lose a realistic route to the nomination. There's no inherent reason for him to be polling so poorly. Back in February he saw support of around 14 percent in New Hampshire. However, his poll numbers have tanked since then, and fundraising has been poor. Given that so many of his views are popular with voters there's no reason other than campaign mistakes to explain it. Making recent headlines could help but a strong showing at the debate is the only one to break from the pack.
Be The Less Terrible Islamophobe
As frustrating as it may be for the rest of us Americans, Trump's Islamophobic call to ban Muslims from entering the United States has actually helped him in the polls. The broader trend of all the candidates has been in the direction of unfairly characterizing Muslim Americans and discriminating against Muslim refugees and immigrants. Only 49 percent of Republicans in an Iowa poll this September thought Islam should be legal in the United States.
This opens up space for Paul to play the middle ground. He told Jake Tapper last Wednesday on CNN that both Trump and Hillary Clinton are wrong in recent statements on Muslims. He said religion cannot be used as a test, like Trump has said, but that Clinton is ignoring the problem by refusing to say "radical Islamist." Make no mistake, Paul's plans to ban travel from many Muslim-majority countries are still offensive and wrong, and could cause Paul or any other Republican candidate to lose the general election. But, offering a third option could help him in the primaries.
Speaking of Trump's ridiculous comments, one of the best ways Paul found to shine at the November debate was in ridiculing Trump. He should continue to do so, particularly on economic issues. He let Trump speak a lot of nonsense on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal before correcting him. Trump talked about China in reference to the deal, even though the country is not one of the partners. This played well for Paul, and correcting the Donald will help him with Republicans who are worried about Trump's lack of knowledge on international affairs and economics. Trump should remain an easy target.
Connect With Young Voters On College Costs
One of Paul's plans to reach the nomination has been his on-campus student groups, Students for Rand. Early in September he announced 339 nationwide chapters, and the student vote in Iowa could make a big difference, much like it did for his father. His father won 50 percent of the youth vote in 2012 at the caucuses. He has done a lot to reach out to the younger demographic, like being one of the first candidates to create a Snapchat. But that's not enough: He needs to talk college affordability at the debate. This is something for which the Republicans haven't had a good answer. He could change that and pick up a lot of votes in the process.
Paul got some press after critiquing President Obama, saying he should be disqualified from serving as president. If there's one things Republicans can agree on, it's how much they dislike Obama. Paul could play up how neither Trump nor Obama should be in charge. Again, he can play himself up as the best middle choice between the craziness that is Trump and a liberal politician like Clinton or Obama. Another route he could go is to criticize Obama and Trump together, implying that they are both just a lot of talk — drawing attention for what they say instead of what they can do. Sure they inspire very different groups of people, but Paul could make himself out to be the logical thinker and a get-er-done candidate.
Play Up Mass Surveillance
Paul has been against mass surveillance in the United States, and recently criticized the systems in the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino as being not only invasive but ineffective. He pointed out that France has an even larger data collection program than the United States but was unable to predict the attack. He said on Meet The Press last Sunday:
So how much liberty do we want to give up for a false sense of security? The government has investigated our program of collecting through a generalized fashion, everyone's phone records in the country. And they found that no terrorist case has been thwarted through this.