Wikimedia courtesy of Gage Skidmore Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul officially announces his campaign on April 7 at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. Paul’s campaign has been struggling to take off as the field of Republican candidates has widened.

Wikimedia courtesy of Gage Skidmore
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul officially announces his campaign on April 7 at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. Paul’s campaign has been struggling to take off as the field of Republican candidates has widened.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the event was organized by Students for Rand. It was in fact organized by the College Republicans. 

by Jacob Solis

Hot off the heels of the second Republican presidential debate, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul came to the University of Nevada, Reno, on Thursday, Sept. 17, to speak to a small group of students in the Joe Crowley Student Union theater. The event was sponsored and organized by UNR’s own College Republicans club.

Dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, Paul spoke briefly on a wide array of topics, touching everything from justice system reform to foreign policy. Speaking on the topic of marijuana legalization and justice system reform, Paul stuck to the hard line he drew just a day earlier during the debate in California’s Simi Valley.

“The people who are going to jail for this are people, often African-American and often Hispanic, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren’t,” Paul said. “I personally think that this is a crime for which the only victim is the individual, and I think that America has to take a different attitude. I’d like to see more rehabilitation and less incarceration.”

Paul also threw a couple of jabs at the Democratic field of presidential candidates.

Early in his talk, Paul called the conflict in Libya “Hillary’s war,” a reference to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s alleged role in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The jab echoed a broader stance he has consistently taken against U.S. military action abroad.

He further advocated against putting boots on the ground in Syria to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State, instead calling for more action similar to the airstrikes already underway.

Paul also spent time denouncing socialism, saying it was not “sexy,” and was only administered “at the point of a gun.” These statements came partly as a response to Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders’ recent rise in the polls. A self-proclaimed socialist, Sanders has overtaken Clinton in key primary states.

What Paul did not talk about, however, was his tax plan — a plan that would do away with the current 70,000-page tax code and replace it with a flat tax.

On his website, Paul calls the 14.5 percent tax the “Fair and Flat Tax” and further says that “[his] tax plan would blow up the tax code and start over.” Paul has asserted that the plan would balance the budget and level the playing field for the wealthy, but many critics remain unconvinced.

These critics worry that the new tax would unnecessarily reduce the size of the federal government and that the tax is inherently unfair because it raises taxes on the poor and lowers taxes on the rich. Paul has since rejected these concerns.

Paul’s campaign got off to an inauspicious start early this year. One of the first candidates to officially announce, Paul saw his poll numbers slowly dip as more and more Republicans entered the field. Paul was even on the cusp of being excluded from the first televised debate before being saved by a last-minute jump in the polls.

Since then, Paul has maintained a steady presence in the middle to the back of the pack. Still trumped by the political-outsider triumvirate of Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, the latest CNN/ORC placed Paul in a modest eighth place with 4 percent of likely voters backing him.

While his numbers are better than Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, each of whom have dropped to zero in the polls, Paul is a long way away from the 28 points enjoyed by the front runner, Trump.

Moreover, his two debate appearances have been regarded as lackluster by pundits and garnered him little attention nationwide. Much of his base, comprised of Tea Party conservatives and libertarians, are also being courted by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose numbers are marginally higher than Paul’s in the same CNN/ORC poll.

While Paul gained some support on Monday from South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a key member of the House Freedom Caucus, the road to the Republican nomination is a long one, and Paul remains far from the front.

Jacob Solis can be reached at jsolis@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.