GOP 2016 Paul

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a rally at the Mid-America Center Saturday in Council Bluffs.

For much of 2014, I told anyone who would listen — so not that many people — that Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator, was a dark horse to be the Republican presidential nominee.

Then the Islamic State emerged on the world stage. Paul went from real contender to fringe player.

He formally ended his campaign for president Wednesday, saying the time had come despite the fact that “thousands upon thousands of young people flocked to our message of limited government, privacy, criminal justice reform and a reasonable foreign policy.”

The truth of the matter is that Paul’s campaign was in effect over the minute the Islamic State began beheading Westerners, lighting people on fire and seizing towns in the Middle East in the summer of 2014.

Here’s why: Paul’s candidacy was premised on what he called “reasonable foreign policy” (and what his opponents cast as isolationism).

His father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, put the same non-interventionist worldview at the center of his own 2008 and 2012 campaigns and had significant success, which suggested the typically hawkish Republican Party was growing more libertarian by the day.

That combined with the younger Paul’s ability to reach out to some establishment players and major donors is what convinced me that he had potential to surprise.

Then in August 2014, the Islamic State beheaded James Foley, a U.S. journalist, on camera.

Suddenly, concerns about national security and terrorism, which had been in single digits among Republicans for much of the past few years, shot upwards. Two years earlier, in March 2012, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that just 8 percent of Republicans thought terrorism was the most important issue facing the country. By May 2015 it was their issue No. 1, cited by 27 percent.

By the time of the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shooting late last year, the debate surrounding national security and terrorism had hardened. Republicans, in the main, wanted a muscular foreign policy designed to root out and kill terrorists abroad.

Donald Trump’s rise epitomized this. “We are going to bomb the hell out of ISIS,” he would promise crowds, to cheers. Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz voiced similarly aggressive rhetoric.

All of which left Paul on the outside looking in.

The truth is that Rand Paul was a candidate well positioned to run for president in 2014. But there was no presidential election that year. His decision to leave the race this week was a bow to the inevitable: The party had evolved and slipped away from him.

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