Sen. Rand Paul on Monday pushed back against heightened criticism that he has flip-flopped on foreign policy issues, saying he has stood firmly against the Obama administration’s policies in Syria.

Appearing on CBS “This Morning,” the Kentucky Republican conceded that he has shifted his views in some areas, including on what is an appropriate U.S. response to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “As world events change, obviously you change your analysis. Five years ago, ISIS wasn’t a threat,” he said, using an alternate name for the terrorist group that has mobilized across much of northern and central Iraq…

”From confronting ISIL to ending aid to Israel to whether he supports the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, Rand Paul disingenuously tries to have it every way,” DNC press secretary Michael Czin said in the statement. “Simply put: this is a troubling pattern of behavior for someone who wants to seek the highest office in the land.”

Earlier that morning, following a New Hampshire GOP unity breakfast in Manchester, Paul acknowledged for the first time that his views about going to war with ISIS have changed. But the senator, apparently displeased with the questions, ended the media availability after just two minutes and six seconds…

So when did the senator decide that he supported bombing ISIS? “I don’t know if there is an exact time,” Paul told me Friday.

I asked Paul twice if he was no longer concerned, as he wrote in June, that bombing ISIS may simply turn the United States into “Iran’s air force.” He didn’t respond to the questions and indicated he wasn’t happy with this reporter as well as a local reporter who repeatedly suggested Paul is an isolationist.

“All right, thanks guys. Work on that objectivity,” Paul said, as he walked away.

Agree or disagree that these sorts of questions are fair, Paul is certainly going to get more of them as his presumed quest for the Republican presidential nomination continues. Most journalists he deals with certainly won’t be working on their objectivity anytime soon.

Additionally, I’m a bit surprised that Paul—who prides himself on ideological consistency—has been caught so off guard by this line of questioning. Of course people want to know the specifics of why and when Paul’s principled opposition to ISIS intervention morphed into outright support for airstrikes. And of course hostile reporters want to jump on the Rand-is-a-thin-skinned-flip-flopping-sell-out narrative. It certainly looks like Paul is merely hedging earlier stances (absent any mitigating or clarifying information), and that’s why the media is writing so many stories about it.

Perhaps most people—and even some libertarians—will find nothing objectionable about Paul’s latest opinions. But from a political-imaging standpoint, he clearly needs to explain his thinking more clearly when contradictions arise, if only to safeguard against the proliferation of stories like McCormack’s.

Well sure, Paul has always believed that Congress should have a say in military action abroad. But that wasn’t McCormack’s question. Instead of answering the question posed to him, which was a routine request to articulate if he thinks new circumstances call for a different response, Paul claimed perfect consistency.

Paul has made a curious habit of doing this, even when the facts show that his views, and, more critically, the way he is willing to speak about them, have shifted…

[I]nstances like these, in which the politician survives his transition to a new outlook, are overshadowed by the many others in which candidates have been severely damaged by charges of revising their positions. The danger, as John Kerry learned the hard way during the 2004 presidential contest, is that early criticism and being labeled as a flip-flopper has a way of morphing into a defining framework through which everything else a politician says is viewed. Once the narrative is set, it’s hard to reverse it.

More than a year before the presidential primary voting begins, Paul has already reached a point where he is at risk of falling into Kerry territory, launching a campaign amid a drumbeat of criticism about his changes of heart. Worse, over the summer he’s exhibited an increasingly visible habit of lashing out at those who point out his changes in position, leading critics to start raising questions about his temperament.

Paul jarred many seniors groups in 2012 with a bold plan to replace Medicare with a program that provided subsidies so seniors could buy their coverage from private insurers. The proposal was similar to one designed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to phase out the government-run health insurance program, but didn’t include Ryan’s option of allowing seniors to remain in the old Medicare system if they chose.

Everyone eligible for Medicare would be shifted to Rand Paul’s new approach, he said. That made his plan even more unpopular than Ryan’s star-crossed proposal, and earned him the enmity of many seniors and liberal Democrats. Two years later, Paul and his advisers are working up a new proposal – one that Paul’s aides say may preserve the existing Medicare program in some form. In a speech last month in Iowa City, Paul said, “Those of you on Social Security and Medicare, nothing will change,” according to The Post…

Paul arrived in the Senate an ardent foe of abortion. Last year, he drafted a bill declaring a fertilized egg a human being whose life is protected by law, The Post noted. Yet earlier this year, Paul acknowledged his proposal is not likely to become law any time soon. “My religious and personal belief is that life begins at the very beginning,” he said during an interview with former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. But he added, “I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle and that we’re not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise.”

[M]uch of Paul’s early support in places like Iowa and New Hampshire comes from the hardcore libertarian base who not only voted for his father but also volunteered and donated money. These are the cause people, not the campaign people. And they are not likely to be all that keen on someone who sees them as one point of a triangulation strategy.

Fahrenthold also quotes social conservative leaders raising questions about just how committed Rand is to working to make abortion illegal and/or roll back gay marriage. While Paul was never going to be the “social conservative guy” in the 2016 field — that’s likely to be Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — he also can’t afford to have that segment of the party actively opposed to him. Social conservatives have become a dominant voice in the Iowa caucuses and remain a major factor in the South Carolina primary as well.

Remember that the most important anything a politician can be — or at least be perceived to be — is authentic. Voters like to vote for people that they think a) have convictions and b) are willing to stick by those convictions even in the face of public disagreement. Of course, the best politicians are the ones who give off the impression of being utterly steadfast in their principles while also adjusting those principles to fit the times and the mood of the electorate. Think Bill Clinton.

In Iowa, Christian radio host Steve Deace said some are already worried that Paul is trying to appeal to both sides of the argument.

You’re asking too many girls on a date, man. And sooner or later, they are all going to start talking to one another. ‘Oh, wait. He called you, too?’ ” Deace said. He said that when he asked his listeners to identify a Republican who would fight for their views, most picked one of Paul’s potential 2016 rivals: Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.).

Deace said he was unhappy to hear that these voters might be losing confidence in Paul, because he thinks Paul would be a fantastic president.

“I don’t want to see him go down in flames. . . . He’d be the most conservative president we’ve had since Reagan’s first term. Maybe since Coolidge,” Deace said, referring to Calvin Coolidge, the 1920s president whose hands-off approach has made him a conservative icon 80 years after his death. “But he’s not going to get there this way.”

When you say to Rand Paul (as John McCormack did), “What in your mind has changed” in regards to bombing ISIS, and he responds, “I still have exactly the same policy,” where do you go from there?…

That’s why I think Moody is wrong when he suggests Paul is “at risk of falling into [John] Kerry territory.” It’s apples and oranges. Kerry knew he flip-flopped, and — living in the real world — knew he couldn’t get away with denying it. The best he could do was finesse it. This caused him to say ridiculous things about voting against bills after he voted for them (or was it the other way around? It hardly matters.)

No, Rand Paul is not in danger of entering John Kerry territory. Kerry wouldn’t dare attempt to pull something like this off. He knew he didn’t have what it takes to get us to suspend reality and embrace his delusions of grandeur.

Instead, Paul is, perhaps, closer to “Slick Willie” territory — which is to say this kid might just have what it takes to make it all the way to the top.

Longtime viewers of Bill Maher on HBO’s “Real Time” may be surprised to learn the liberal-leaning host, who makes a habit of skewering Republicans on a weekly basis, is “considering” casting a vote for one come 2016.

“Rand Paul is an interesting candidate to me. Rand Paul could possibly get my vote,” the 58-year-old comedy veteran said of the Kentucky senator.

Maher commented on the son of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas): “As I always used to say about his father, I love half of him. I love the half of him that has the guts to say we should end the American empire, pull the troops home, stop getting involved in every foreign entanglement… He’s way less of a hawk than Hillary, and that appeals to me a lot because I’m not crazy about how warlike she is.”…

When pressed on whether he was leaning towards the Republican lawmaker in a potential Clinton/Paul matchup (neither has announced any 2016 plans), Maher said, “I wouldn’t say leaning, but I would say for the first time in a long time I’d be considering the Republican product. I might choose their toothpaste when I’m in the aisle.”

“As world events change, obviously you change your analysis.”