Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday that he is suspending his presidential campaign, bringing an end to a bid that began with aspirations of expanding the libertarian base that his father, Ron Paul, built into a powerful national coalition.
“It’s been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House,” Paul said in a statement. “Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of Liberty.”
The low-key, philosopher-quoting senator struggled in a year dominated by hard-line outsiders such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and businessman Donald Trump to get attention, and his non-interventionist views on foreign policy were not embraced by Republicans as terrorism and unrest raged abroad.
Paul, a first-time candidate for national office, also found it difficult to persuade the supporters of his father — a former congressman from Texas who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2012 — to back him with enthusiasm. Although popular among libertarians, purists in that wing of the conservative movement questioned whether Paul was too mainstream.
“His decision to move to the middle and support a number of moderate Republicans in the 2014 elections, that sent us a real signal about the application of his ideology,” said Drew Ivers, Ron Paul’s 2012 Iowa chairman, who did not endorse Rand Paul.
“He muddled on his message, tried to get the left, and I told him it would backfire. … I just saw someone trying to do too much and be too many things to too many people. His name is Paul, I told him. You can’t defy gravity.”.
Paul, a 53-year-old ophthalmologist, was elected to the Senate in 2010 as part of the GOP’s tea party wave. He will return to his work in the chamber and to his Senate reelection campaign, where he remains a top target of Democrats as they try to retake the majority this year.
According to Paul’s campaign aides, the candidate decided to drop out after a disappointing finish in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, where his father had placed a strong third in 2012.
Over the past day, Paul began to inform his key aides and donors that he would leave the race.
In his statement, Paul expressed confidence that his campaign, while unsuccessful, offered Republicans an alternative by focusing on issues he thinks are crucial to attracting minorities and young people to the party.
“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,” he said. “Brushfires of Liberty were ignited, and those will carry on, as will I.
“Although, today I will suspend my campaign for President, the fight is far from over,” he added. “I will continue to carry the torch for Liberty in the United States Senate and I look forward to earning the privilege to represent the people of Kentucky for another term.”
A campaign adviser said the senator would not make an endorsement Wednesday. Paul, the adviser said, was at the Capitol for Senate votes.
Longtime associates of Ron Paul framed Rand Paul’s departure from the race as a stumble rather than a crippling defeat in the younger Paul’s career — and for their movement. Paul ally Trygve Olson said that libertarians and other conservatives probably would consider Paul in a future presidential cycle that was less crowded and driven by a celebrity front-runner.
“Rand Paul remains the best advocate those conservative have in the United States Senate,” Olson said. “Even if he didn’t have the kind of success he wanted, he’s an important voice on a whole set of issues. Assuming he’s reelected, he will continue to be that voice and be the person putting them at the center of the radar.”
Olson said Ron Paul’s star turn in the 2008 race was driven as much by the national political environment as it was by the candidate’s performance. “When Ron ran then, he was able to tap into the angst that was out there about the war and foreign policy,” he said.
Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a staunch critic of Paul’s foreign policy positions, commended his Senate colleague for running “a good race” and wished him luck in his reelection bid.
“Rand is someone I disagree with on a lot of issues, but as I said the other night at the debate … he believes strongly in what he stands for, and I respect that,” said Rubio. “He’s a true believer on issues of limited government and the liberty issues and I respect it for him for it.”
Asked if he planned to ask Paul for his endorsement, Rubio replied: “Sure. I mean, I’d love to have Rand’s support.”
Paul’s method of campaigning echoed his father’s. He favored small gatherings where he could make lengthy speeches and preferred orations that cited Montesquieu. While he was accessible to the media, he did not relish banter with reporters or the glad-handing demands of the campaign. An enduring image for many reporters is that of Paul reading a book in an airport terminal.
But his ambitions were grand. Two years ago, he became the first Republican to assemble a network in all 50 states as a precursor to a presidential run — a sign that he was looking to build a coalition that wasn’t as ad hoc as his father’s.
Magazine covers proclaimed Paul to be one of the party’s brightest and most interesting voices — a hemp-wearing, curly-haired maverick.
He began courting Wall Street titans and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who had donated to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, attending elite conclaves in Utah and elsewhere. His pitch combined his antagonism toward the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs with what he called “crunchy conservatism,” a prioritization of drug-sentencing reform, the environment and civil liberties.
In early 2014, he was consistently leading — or close to leading — national polls. A CNN/ORC International survey in March of that year found that 16 percent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican were likely to support the senator, putting him at the front of the Republican field.
Sean Sullivan contributed to this post, which has been updated.