Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has shown himself to be an impressive politician. A long-shot, anti-establishment challenger with no political experience, he took on, and defeated, the handpicked candidate of Senate Minority Leader, and fellow Kentuckian, Mitch McConnell. When he got to Washington, Paul had a rocky start. But he quickly found his footing. His heterodox views on civil liberties, prison reform, and the Federal Reserve—and his willingness to espouse them in hostile territory like black colleges, or, just yesterday, Berkeley, Calif.—has set him apart from his Republican peers and lifted him into the first tier of 2016 presidential contenders.
Paul has one glaring weakness, though. He’s too sensitive. He complained loudly when the press hounded him after a staffer was revealed to have published racist diatribes. Same thing when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow revealed that he’d plagiarized a speech, and when BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kacynski revealed he’d plagiarized lots more speeches. Dismissing his critics as “hacks and haters,” Paul said, “If dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, it’d be a duel challenge.”
One subject seems to irk him more than any other, probably because he gets asked about it so often: his father, Ron Paul. The steady fusillade of questions stems from the fact that without his famous dad and the political support that brought him, Rand would not be in the Senate. And also from the fact that Ron Paul has views and associations well outside the mainstream—like the racist newsletters he published for years.
Rand Paul has always seemed annoyed by questions about his dad. When I interviewed him last year, he waved off that line of inquiry and focused on dead Fed chairmen. Now Paul is attempting to put the subject officially off limits. Via Slate’s Dave Weigel, Paul declared yesterday that he has “quit answering” questions about his father. “I’ve been in the Senate three years, and I have created a record of myself,” he said. “And I have my opinions.”
As Weigel points out, this is a laughable double standard, since Paul recently tried to associate another politician-with-a-record—Hillary Clinton—to a family member’s “predatory behavior.”
The bigger problem for Paul is that this is like putting up a flashing neon sign that reads “Controversy Guaranteed!” to the political press corps. If there’s one thing reporters are great at, it’s asking the same question over and over again until a politician flips his lid. Paul’s history suggests it may not take very long. If he doesn’t develop a way to answer questions about his dad, his time among the top tier of GOP presidential hopefuls won’t last long, either.