The fight of Rand Paul’s life will not be against the Republican Party’s “establishment,” nor will it be against Hillary Clinton should he become his party’s presidential nominee in 2016. No, the great adversaries against which Paul will be contending for the remainder of his presidential campaign will be himself and the political press.
This battle was foreshadowed on Tuesday during an interview between Paul and NBC’s Today host Savannah Guthrie.
To read Today’s take on this interview is to come away with the impression that it was a collegial exchange in which Paul essentially praised President Barack Obama’s negotiating skills vis-à-vis Iran. “Rand Paul on Iran nuclear deal: ‘I’m going to keep an open mind,’” the headline read. The story’s three paragraph write-up of the interview contained only a handful of quotes, all of which indicated that Paul was supportive of the outcome of negotiations with Iran.
But anyone who watched the six-minute exchange probably came away with a distinctly different impression. The interview was tense and confrontational. Paul and Guthrie regularly clashed, and Paul took visible offense at the number of times in which his positions were mischaracterized. Guthrie dismissed Paul’s objections to the terms of a nuclear accord with Iran, posed hypotheticals favorable to the president, and prodded Paul to vocally support her theoretical scenario. To this, Paul became observably irritated, as almost anyone would. What’s more, it is a virtual certainty that Paul’s irritation will be interpreted by the usual suspects as sexism, as it was when Paul attempted to silence a CNBC anchor who repeatedly spoke over him by “shushing” her during a recent on-air interview.
While Paul did say that he was prepared to reserve judgment on the results of a framework deal struck between the West and Iran regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, he expressed concerns over the fact that Iran and the United States apparently have interpreted the terms of that deal differently. “Right, but let’s just say – let’s take that issue off the table,” Guthrie interjected. She asked Paul to respond to her earlier proposition, which was essentially to take President Barack Obama at his word that this deal’s outlines are as good as anything the West could have secured. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
“You have had views on foreign policy in the past that were somewhat unorthodox, but you seem to have changed over the years,” Guthrie continued. She went on to outline Paul’s shifting views on foreign policy matters including foreign aid to Israel, the Iranian threat, and cuts to defense spending.
Paul spoke over Guthrie in order to clarify his positions on these matters. “Why don’t we let me explain instead of talking over me, OK?” he asked. “Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on, why don’t you ask me a question, ‘Have I changed my opinion?’ That would sort of a better way to approach an interview.”
Politico provided a transcript of the exchange that followed:
“My opinion has always been that we shouldn’t borrow money from China to send it to any country — Pakistan, Israel, or any other country,” he said. “But I also realize that things will have to be done gradually, and if we are going to try to eliminate or reduce foreign aid, why don’t we start with the countries that hate us, that burn our flag. And the one thing that is true is that Israel doesn’t burn our flag, and so I haven’t proposed removing aid from Israel—”
“But you once did,” Guthrie said.
“But I still agree with my original precept, which is” Paul continued. “Let me answer the question. I still agree with my original statement years ago that ultimately, all nations should be free of foreign aid because we shouldn’t borrow money to do it.”
Surely, Paul’s evident frustration with Guthrie is due, at least in part, to the fact that his position on these matters have shifted toward the consensus position within the GOP ahead of his 2016 presidential bid. He was similarly vexed when Guthrie asked Paul why he contradicted a 2007 statement in which he claimed Iran did not represent a threat to the United States. “2007 was a long time ago, and events do change over long periods of time,” Paul replied unconvincingly.
Paul’s apparently evolving views on foreign policy are going to prove his greatest challenge in appealing to the GOP electorate, but his vexation in this interview was totally understandable. Nevertheless, the Kentucky senator is going to have to learn how to let the small stuff roll off his back and ignore the media’s antagonism if he is going to prove a viable GOP standard-bearer.