It’s 4:55 p.m. and I am observing the open roads of Iowa through the bulky shoulders of two staffers for Rand Paul’s presidential campaign. The sky is blue, the corn fields lush, the conversation banal and currently focused on Jim Gaffigan, the comedian, who has a particularly funny bit about parenting. It’s a typical moment on the campaign trail, all things considered. Except, I’m not in Iowa.
I’m watching this scene about a thousand miles away from Rand Paul, on a livestream, dubbed #RandLive by the wordsmiths at Paul HQ. I’ve been watching scenes like this since about 10am, and there is no end in sight.
I have seen Rand Paul—dressed like Sporty Spock in some kind of blue vest, black shirt combination—scroll through his iPhone, searching for just the right song (he loves Metallica and KT Tunstall), I have learned that Rand Paul’s favorite philosopher is Albert Camus, I have heard Rand Paul tell college students about the debt, and I have seen Rand Paul lean back on wooden bleachers, his legs crossed so as to show off his cowboy boots, as he stares off at the Field of Dreams and declares that Joe Jackson and Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.
When you listen to it for long enough, you hear in Paul’s not-really Texas, not-really Kentucky accent a mild Cher Horowitz quality. When you stare at him for long enough, he starts to look like a cartoon. I read something recently about how in nature, people only pay attention to others with the same level of interest that journalists observe their subjects when they’re in love. Watching hours of one man talking into space about whatever pops into his head isn’t normal, in other words.
But time has lost all meaning.
The only relief comes in the form of the video feed freezing, which happily occurs about once every minute or so—sometimes for blissful 40-minute stretches at a time.
“I’m very happy with the stream so far,” Vincent Harris, Paul’s media guru, told me. “Live streaming over 12 hours while traveling across Iowa isn’t going to be a perfect feed.”
In early July, Harris and Chip Englander (real name), Paul’s campaign manager, traveled to Google’s global headquarters in Mountain View, California, to meet with the company’s “brand staff.” That’s where “the idea was spurred,” according to Harris, and the benefits of live-streaming an entire day of campaigning were immediately obvious.
“The goals are numerous,” he said. “Show who Rand Paul is uninterrupted and with no filter” (except when the feed freezes) “drive traffic to the website and drive interest in Dr. Paul and his message of liberty.”
“Voters want transparency from their politicians, especially in an age where officials go through long lengths to hide information from citizens,” Harris continued. “Rand pushes the campaign to innovate and use technology to reach voters in a new way. This is simply the fulfillment of the type of campaign he wants to run.”
But Paul was telling a different story on the livestream. During a radio interview from the backseat of the car, Paul joked that he didn’t want to do this, but his campaign ignored him when he said no. At another point, he told a reporter, “I wish I knew why I was live streaming, I have been saying I don’t want to do this.”
Harris said he was overstating his apprehension. “Rand just wanted to be sure of the logistics and that it could be pulled off well, which so far it has been!” he said. “I assured him as well that bathroom breaks were strictly off limits for the live stream! :)”
As Paul has slipped from the headlines and fallen down in the polls—he averages today at 2.7 percent—he has attempted a series of stunts designed to capture the attention of the public and the media.
He advertised a filibuster that wasn’t a filibuster at all, he asked his supporters to tell him their best gossip about Hillary Clinton, he took the United States tax code and, inexplicably wearing a t-shirt that read “Detroit Republican,” he set it on fire, put it in a wood chipper, and sliced it with a chainsaw.
It felt at times today as though he was attempting to do the same to the viewers of #RandLive.