Rand Paul kicked off Day 2 of his newly minted presidential campaign on Wednesday with a satellite interview with the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie. It’s safe to say it could have gone better for the Kentucky Republican, who quickly turned a question about his foreign policy contradictions into a lecture on the media.
While Guthrie was still in her windup—summarizing Paul’s past positions on the dangers posed by Iran, funding for Israel, and U.S. defense spending—the White House hopeful interrupted to complain that … Guthrie had interrupted him. “Why don't we let me explain instead of talking over me, OK?” Paul said. “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?” Guthrie then did just that, but Paul still wasn’t satisfied. Via the transcript from NBC:
GUTHRIE: Have you changed your opinion?
PAUL: That's a better way to approach it.
GUTHRIE: Okay. Is Iran still not a threat?
PAUL: No, no, no, you've editorialized it. No no no no, listen. You've editorialized. Let me answer a question. You asked a question and you say 'Have your views changed?' instead of editorializing and saying my views have changed.
As most of the Internet was quick to point out, this isn’t the first time Paul’s gotten combative in an interview with a female television journalist. Back in February he actually shushed CNBC’s Kelly Evans while they were talking about corporate tax holidays. (You can view that cringe-worthy moment, along with Wednesday’s, in the video above.)
Paul is normally a solid performer in front of the camera—making these two slipups all the more noticeable—but he’s known to have similarly testy exchanges with reporters who cover him on the Hill. Reporters who spoke to Politico for a piece on Paul’s relationship with the press earlier this week described a man who can be “thin-skinned,” “sensitive,” “wary” and “prickly.”
Last spring, when Rand-mentum was just picking up steam, my former colleague Dave Weigel actually predicted that these type of PR problems would crop up for Paul when he made the transition from being an interesting story in the Senate to being a credible candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. (Weigel’s column focused specifically on how Paul reacts to questions about the darker associations of his father—but the larger point remains, particularly as Paul does his best to moderate his image in order to be all things to all GOP voters.)
Bashing the mainstream media is pretty much an unofficial policy plank for the Republican Party at this point. So this type of display of defiance from Paul is unlikely to hurt him with the GOP base or his particular band of libertarian-leaning followers. The bigger problem for the White House hopeful, though, is that he’s promised to expand the GOP tent—and, presumably, at least a few of those voters he hopes to attract are among the more than 4 million Americans who tune into NBC every morning.
Somewhat fittingly, the question that Guthrie was building up to before being cut off by Paul was actually something of a softball. “I just wonder if you've mellowed out,” Guthrie says during the early cross talk, a topic she’d revisit at the end of the interview. Paul never directly answered that, but when it comes to his media strategy at least, we all now know the answer.