IOWA CITY, Iowa—Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's first week as a presidential candidate has been a paradox; unusually programmed and yet bedeviled by Paul's own words. In his primary state speeches, Paul stands on a podium between two TelePrompter lenses, and sticks to a script. The extent of his ad-libbing happened in New Hampshire, when Paul got to a line about America's "enemies" and an audience member decided to do some trolling.
"Crush the Democrats!" yelled the spectator.
"Until we name the enemy, we cannot win the war," said Paul, to mixture of laughter and applause. "All right—there are enemies within, and enemies without."
Paul's careful presentation at rallies has contrasted with his media interviews, and with the attack ads from a hawkish 501(c)(4) that dig into interviews Paul gave years ago to the conspiracy-curious radio host Alex Jones. It was to Jones that Paul had said Iran posed "no threat" to America, for example. In an interview with Bloomberg News, asked whether he regretted talking to Jones, Paul demurred.
"I’ve been pretty open to doing a lot of interviews with a lot of different people," he said. "And people want to characterize one or two of them, whether they’re on the right or left, you know, they’re welcome to do it. But I’ve been pretty open to doing interviews and it’s one way to get the information out."
Asked if he listened to Jones's show, Paul said that he simply didn't listen to much news. "When I’m brushing my teeth in the morning I turn on the news channel," he said, "but I’m busy all day."
Paul's irritation with the mainstream media followed him all week, especially after he chastised Today Show co-host Savannah Guthrie for asking him to answer a series of contradictions between the Alex Jones-era answers (2007 to 2009) and 2015. In subsequent talks with the New York Times, CNN, and Fox News, Paul found himself going meta about the problems with spot interviews.
"I think that interviews are difficult," Paul told Fox's Megyn Kelly. "Like right now while we're doing this interview I can't see you. You know, I'm in a remote—by a remote camera in South Carolina. When an interview's contentious and when an interview is full of a lot of opinion and editorializing and it's a long-winded question that's setting you up to say, well, you know, you've been beating your wife all these years and when are you going to stop beating your wife? It's very difficult in those contentious interviews. I don't think it makes for good TV on both sides. And I do lose my cool. And I lost—I do lose my temper sometimes. And I should be better at that, but the thing is you don't get any visual clues."
So: How would a President Rand Paul handle the media? Would he hold more press conferences? Less? None?
"I think presidents in recent history seem to be protecting themselves more and more from the media, you know?" Paul told Bloomberg News. "They have media spokesmen, and it’s a bit of a circus, where the media spokesman spends two hours trying not to say anything. But part of that is we’ve all put ourselves in this box, because when people speak candidly, or you try to have a candid conversation, or you try to have an extensive conversation, sometimes it becomes more divisive than it is informative."
Paul was imagining a world without gotchas, something hard for most of the press to conceive. "There are still good outlets, in the sense that I think the longer interview format tends to do better," said Paul. "That’s why it’s harder in a four to six minute television interview, if two minutes of it is a loaded question, and then you’re trying to defend against a loaded question. You really don’t get that much accurate information out. But that’s a real question—I tend to be more open and available and willing to talk with media than just about anybody. I think we’d continue that."
Yet at the end of his conversation with Bloomberg News, Paul recalled how he'd cut down a question about abortion by suggesting reporters to get some answers from Democrats.
"What are you going to do if Martians land on earth? you going to kill all martians that have two heads when they land? We always have to handle these bizarre hypotheticals, and the liberals get off scot free."