Diana Orrock was a loyal foot solider in the Ron Paul revolution in Nevada four years ago, fighting to put the libertarian icon’s imprint on the 2012 presidential race, and she had every hope his son, Sen. Rand Paul, would be the natural successor.
But her dream has been dashed, she said, with the younger Mr. Paul struggling to organize, raise money and find a message to reach voters the way his father did.
“Rand is not his father,” Ms. Orrock, one of Nevada’s two elected Republican National Committee members, said. “I mean the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree, but it has fallen some distance from the tree.”
She was an early supporter of the new Paul presidential campaign, eager to help the Kentucky lawmaker build on his father’s success by pushing libertarianism more into the mainstream. The campaign, though, ignored her, she said. So she shifted her allegiance to Donald Trump.
Nevada was ground zero for the Paul revolution, which saw the maverick congressman’s supporters invest deeply in the apparatus of Republican Party politics, hoping to refashion rules and win leadership posts and pave the way for the next generation of libertarian-minded lawmakers.
Even though Ron Paul did not win the state’s nominating caucuses in either 2008 or 2012, his supporters took control of the state conventions and managed to install themselves in delegate and leadership posts.
James Smack was one of the supporters, registering as a Republican in 2007 in order to vote for Ron Paul in 2008, and backed him again in 2012. But he said Rand Paul’s campaign didn’t seem interested in having him on board this time around.
Mr. Smack now serves as the co-chair of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign.
“The Huckabee people wanted me, and it didn’t seem like the Paul people wanted me,” Mr. Smack said, adding that the excitement for the younger Paul has faded noticeably in Nevada.
Mr. Smack said many of the “more extreme libertarians” among the father’s followers have retreated from GOP politics altogether, while others have flocked to Mr. Trump.
“I don’t think the gravitation to Trump is that he is the next Ron Paul. It is that Trump is willing to throw everything out — the baby with the bathwater. I think there is some libertarian appeal to that for some reason,” he said.
But Carl Bunce, who backed the elder Paul’s Nevada campaign in 2008 and 2012, and is now an adviser to his son, downplayed the idea that the so-called “liberty movement” has lost steam over the last four years, saying it has “matured” and the younger Paul’s 2016 effort “is a broadening and strengthening of the liberty base.”
“Most of us have continued the same work we did in 2008 and 2012, but from within Republican political structures instead of from the outside looking in,” Mr. Bunce said in an email, offering it up as explanation as to why their current efforts have not grabbed as much limelight as in the past. “We are no longer trying to beat the door down to get traction in the party.”
Mr. Bunce said the Paul campaign is doing the work needed to win in the early states.
“There are people within our ranks that worked against some of our past goals in the Republican Party,” he said. “As we have changed, so have they. We are growing the party under a banner of liberty — less government, less foreign intervention and less taxes. This message is strong, and once people understand it, they don’t ever leave.”
He notched some early successes in Congress and quickly began laying the groundwork for a presidential bid himself. But he’s failed to get traction and, unlike his father, who at this point in 2011 was near the top of the polls in Iowa, Rand Paul struggled even to be among the top nine candidates on the main stage in last week’s GOP debate.
The national discussion also has shifted toward issues — immigration, national security and foreign policy — that have helped his rivals, including those who have been quick to label him as an “isolationist” on international affairs.
And his presidential campaign has struggled to raise money.
Former Nevada Gov. Robert List said the fervor of the Ron Paul revolution has waned.
“In my judgment, it has come and gone,” Mr. List said. “I frankly don’t think it has been a generational handoff.”
Mrs. Orrock said, “The iceberg has melted.”
“A lot of others have not come back. They have left the party to parts unknown,” she said.
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