Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had hoped to make a big impression with major donors at a forum thrown by the Koch brothers’ leading political organization — but instead he apparently bombed.
According to Politico
, the prospective presidential candidate seemingly wore the wrong clothes, acted in an ostensibly casual manner, made controversial comments during his speech, and, perhaps worst of all, appeared ill-prepared for the exchange of conservative views.
And it was no surprise then that he came dead last in a straw poll of potential 2016 candidates that was held at the end of last month's summit by Freedom Partners, which is the policy center and "bank" of billionaire Charles and David Koch’s conservative network.
Paul attended the group’s annual winter conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, California, wearing a boxy blue blazer, faded jeans and cowboy boots.
That was his first mistake, according to Frayda Levin, a Paul supporter and major donor.
"Some attendees commented that Paul’s appearance was 'cavalier,'" said Levin. "This is an older crowd and much more establishment crowd. They are used to a Romney. They are used to a Jeb Bush."
And another attendee told Politico, "Jeans might work for a younger audience, but these are old bulls who put on a tie every day to go to the office."
His second big mistake came in the speech he made in front of mega donors who pay Freedom Partners at least $100,000 in annual dues purely for the privilege of membership.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when he suggested that tax breaks could boost economic growth
in troubled inner cities like Detroit.
His unexpected comment likely angered potential mega-donors at the forum as it flies in the face of the basic conservative ideal that government should remain on the sidelines as much as possible. In fact, the mantra for Freedom Partners touts "the benefits of free markets and a free society."
Although Levin admitted that she was "a little surprised" by his remarks, she was willing to allow him a little latitude, adding, "He’s just exploring ideas right now. People didn’t quite understand where he was coming from."
Things went from bad to worse for Paul later that night, according to the political news website.
The senator, whose libertarian views appear to line up with the Koch siblings, gave "rambling answers" during a forum with other potential 2016 hopefuls, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, while Paul was noticeably "slouching" in a cushy armchair and crossing his legs.
During the gathering, Paul may have made a miscalculation when he noted that he did not support the elimination of tax benefits to the oil and gas industry. Although the Koch Industries conglomerate benefits from tax breaks, the Koch brothers oppose them due to their political beliefs favoring small-government policies.
Politico said that Paul also seemed "less prepared" than Rubio, who gave detailed answers and won the best-dressed award for the evening while sporting a natty Navy blue suit, crisp white shirt, and red tie. Cruz was tieless in a light blue short with tan sports coat.
Paul’s comments and clothes did not go unnoticed. In consultant Frank Luntz’s straw poll the next day of 100 donors, Rubio came first while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who only made a brief appearance, was second. Paul placed last.
But Paul’s spokesman Sergio Gor quickly defended the senator against any suggestion that he had turned off dozens of super donors at the forum and that it was, as Politico called it, "a missed opportunity."
"We can assure you Sen. Rand Paul made great inroads with countless individuals who attended the event," Gor told Politico. "His individual meetings with attendees proved very, very fruitful and he was well received by the hosts."
And, somewhat haughtily, Gor added, "Finally, since the event was closed to the press, it is impossible for any reporter to accurately reflect the opinion of 300 attendees."
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