A belated response to the uproar after Paul told an NYT reporter that the GOP’s voter-ID push was “offending people.” After reading this, I think the Guardian has his position right: “Rand Paul believes in voter ID laws. He just doesn’t think Republicans should talk about them so much.”

Good enough?

[T]his statement comes from Paul’s former chief of staff and current PAC director.

“Senator Paul was having a larger discussion about criminal justice reform and restoration of voting rights, two issues he has been speaking about around the country and pushing for in state and federal legislation.

“In the course of that discussion, he reiterated a point he has made before that while there may be some instances of voter fraud, it should not be a defining issue of the Republican Party, as it is an issue that is perhaps perceived in a way it is not intended. At no point did Senator Paul come out against voter ID laws. In terms of the specifics of voter ID laws, Senator Paul believes it’s up to each state to decide that type of issue.”

The full quote reported by the Times (which itself noted that Paul said nothing about opposing voter ID laws) was, “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing. I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” Obvious question: How much effort on voter ID is too much, before it crosses into what Paul would regard as Crazytown? If state legislatures controlled by Republicans move to pass voter ID laws, as Paul allegedly would prefer, they’re going to have floor debates with Democrats. Should they drop the bills in the name of avoiding that? This reminds me a little of what he told Axelrod a few weeks ago about abortion. He agrees with most Republicans on that issue too, but emphasizing that no laws will change unless and until pro-lifers make more headway in persuading voters was his way of signaling, I thought, that the issue wouldn’t be a priority for him as president. He’s signaling the same thing on voter ID, even to the point of stressing that it’s not a federal issue. He believes in ID requirements for voting, he just … doesn’t want to talk about it, and clearly he thinks other big-name Republicans shouldn’t be talking much either.

Iowa conservative Steve Deace can’t help noticing that this habit of difference-splitting, in which Paul is forever pinballing between libertarians, conservatives, and the Democratic constituencies he’s trying to woo, keeps producing muddles:

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident with Rand.

In 2013, Rand wrote an op-ed for The Washington Times that was to the left of the “gang of 8” on amnesty. Rand said he would “normalize the status of 11 million undocumented citizens.” So we’ve gone from “illegal aliens,” to “illegal immigrants,” to “undocumented immigrants” in the Leftist media currently, to “undocumented citizens” according to Rand. Does anybody know how one gets to be an “undocumented citizen” of Canada, since they have replaced us as the best country in the world for the middle class on Barack Hussein Obama’s watch?

Rand has admirably sponsored pro-life legislation in the U.S. Senate that would declare an unborn child a “person” under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution from the moment of conception, without exception. But in a CNN interview last year, he said there were “thousands” of exceptions that make it okay to kill babies, and last month told an audience “My personal religious belief is that life begins at the very beginning, but the country is in the middle, [and] we’re not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise.”…

Rand gave three totally different answers in the span of two weeks on Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Rand praised Anthony Kennedy for “avoiding a cultural war” by declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Apparently in Rand-world inflaming a cultural war that leads to unprecedented attacks on religious liberty and free speech is avoidance. Kennedy’s opinion was so egregious that fellow Justice Antonin Scalia criticized it as “confusing” and “rootless” for its “shifting justifications.” Rand called the plan to try and defund Obamacare his base supported “a dumb idea” even though he admitted “it did appear as if I was participating in it.”

It’s not his take on voter ID per se that risks hurting him. It’s the perception Deace describes, that Paul’s getting too cute in trying to reconcile different interests on his mission to make the party’s tent bigger, that’ll cause problems for him in the primary (especially if Cruz jumps in and positions himself as the man of clear, consistent conservative conviction). Above all, righties want someone in office whom they can trust will defend their values. The more Paul takes positions like this one — let’s be for voter ID but not talk about it — the harder that is. But now I wonder if maybe I’m missing the point of what he’s trying to do. All along, I’ve thought his chief appeal was as a man of principle — libertarian on many issues, conservative on a few, but unafraid to buck either side to defend his beliefs. I thought that’s how he’d run in 2016, precisely because he’s interested in showing righties that he’ll defend their values relentlessly in office. Maybe, though, he’s starting to re-position himself the same way that Rubio’s re-positioning as an establishment candidate. Maybe Paul’s new brand is less about standing on principle than about (as strange as it is to say it for a member of the Paul family) electability, forging an unorthodox new right-wing platform that supposedly gives the GOP its best chance in the general. Maybe he looked at the likelihood of Cruz running and figured it was folly to try to out-conservative him; instead, he’ll try to appeal to the various factions who want “a new GOP,” even if it leaves him open to attacks from Cruz on issues like voter ID. He’ll remain formally in favor of voter ID laws because he recognizes that it’s a litmus test for lots of primary voters, but when it comes to his priorities, you know what you’re getting — less spending, less NSA, a more “modest” foreign policy with little to no foreign aid, and a better chance of liberalizing drug laws than you’d have with any other candidate. The rest is window dressing.