Sen. Rand Paul was, by all reasonable measures, unfairly booted from the last Republican debate prior to the Iowa caucuses. But looking at the numbers, this appears to have been a blessing in disguise for Paul.
CNN Money reports that the last Fox Business debate drew 11 million viewers. This was down from the 18 million who tuned into the previous debate hosted by CNN. The undercard debate, which Paul would have been relegated to had he not boycotted, only drew 2 million viewers. (Despite his absence, Paul won a post-debate undercard online poll with 95 percent of the vote by virtue of skipping it.)
In contrast, Rand Paul’s media blitz as a result of being unjustly removed from the stage garnered him incredible amounts of attention. Paul told Business Insider that his campaign estimates that they reached 15 million people through television appearances tied to his exclusion from the debate.
The most notable of Paul’s appearances was a humorous segment on The Daily Show where he and host Trevor Noah staged a “GOP Singles Night,” a one-on-one debate between the two of them, all while drinking Kentucky bourbon in honor of Paul’s home state.
During the debate itself, Paul went to Twitter’s headquarters in New York City, building on his television reach with a successful social media campaign. As a result, he gained the fourth most Twitter followers of any presidential candidate during that timeframe, and his hashtag #RandRally was the third highest trending topic in the U.S.
As a Twitter representative told Business Insider, the results Paul achieved were “honestly pretty impressive,” noting that it was amazing how Paul was able to drown out the Thursday night chatter usually dominated by regular television programs and in this instance, the debate.
Of this phenomenon Paul said, “It used to be there were only three networks,” telling Business Insider, “The three networks can’t destroy you because there’s cable. If the networks are trying to hurt you and cable is trying to hurt you, now there’s social media. So there’s all kind of ways to get your message out.”
Paul added that he believes the popularity of the internet and its democratization of information flow has made it so that political insiders lack the power they once had. “ I think we live in a more competitive time for ideas and issues than we ever have and that’s why the old guard is surprised by things that are happening in elections,” he said.
With the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away, Paul’s campaign no doubt hopes his literal middle finger to the media will translate into more on-the-ground support. There’s no doubt that this past week, Paul turned a snub into an opportunity. If that will translate into helping him in the caucuses and primaries remains to be seen.