Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during the inaugural Freedom Summit meeting for conservative speakers in Manchester, New Hampshire April 12, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) office does a lot of “clarifying” these days, which is not a good sign for a presidential aspirant. It usually suggests lack of discipline, but in Paul’s case it points to a fundamental inconsistency at the heart of his message.

On Friday he said, “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing. I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” (He previously had criticized voter identification laws in an appearance with David Axelrod.) On Monday, he was slammed on the Heritage Foundation Web site. Several of its attorneys/legal fellows have taken a leading role in defending voter ID bills:

“Senator Paul is wrong. It is leaders of the Democratic Party and their allies that have gone crazy over voter ID, not Republicans who have simply been trying to improve election integrity to protect all voters,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told The Foundry.

Generally, “voter ID” refers to laws and proposed laws requiring citizens to present a specific form of valid identification before they are allowed to vote.

“It is the absurd claims of voter ID opponents that are insulting – and Paul is apparently unaware that polls show that Americans no matter their race overwhelmingly support voter ID as a common sense reform,” said von Spakovsky, who manages Heritage’s Election Law Reform Initiative.

So then it was  time for Rand Paul to beat a hasty retreat. His closest adviser, Doug Stafford (who also was assigned to clarify Paul’s comments on World War II), insisted, “In the course of that discussion, he reiterated a point he has made before that while there may be some instances of voter fraud, it should not be a defining issue of the Republican Party, as it is an issue that is perhaps perceived in a way it is not intended.” He argued, “In terms of the specifics of voter ID laws, Senator Paul believes it’s up to each state to decide that type of issue.” (But if so why is he raising the issue? Why did he say that only after he was bashed from the right?)

Listen, I understand the argument that fraud is real and diminishes the vote of legal voters so voter ID laws are critical. (They have been upheld in court because actual evidence that they discriminate is wanting.)  I also appreciate (although I disagree with) the argument that anti-voting fraud measures might not be worth the flak from liberals and minority groups. What I can’t appreciate is saying both these things.

Von Spakovsky was not impressed with the clarification. He told Right Turn, “Paul now says he meant that voter ID should not be the defining issue of the Republican Party but only the leadership of the Democratic Party and their allies who are opponents of this common sense reform try to make that claim. ” He continued, “He says correctly that it should be up to states to make a decision on this issue yet then says he wants to have a federal law restoring felon voting rights despite the fact that the Constitution specifically gives the states full authority over that issue, too.”

Rand Paul’s bobbing and weaving plainly evidence the tension between the authentic Rand Paul, who speaks his mind and rejects a number of conservative views in favor of an eccentric brand of libertarianism, and the Paul who wants to be president. Unfortunately, the impulsive statements uttered by Rand Paul (e.g. civil rights laws infringe on private property, Vice President Cheney took us to war because of Halliburton, the United States provoked Japan in WWII, we should not rule out containment of Iran) are inconsistent with the goal of becoming a mainstream candidate acceptable to the GOP electorate. That is why he, on one hand, advances anti-interventionist policies and on the other claims to be a devotee of Ronald Reagan. But, alas, the circle can’t be squared. Some things (e.g. big cuts to defense) are simply not compatible with other things (e.g. maintaining peace through strength and preventing a hollowed out military).

As I have pointed out before, Paul, when addressing liberal audiences, nibbles around the edges of his platform. Destroying the National Security Agency, drug law reforms and ending drones may play in Berkeley, but “traditional” marriage, opposition to abortion and slashing the federal government don’t. So he simply ignored the stuff that doesn’t play so well. What would he tell the next Howard University audience about his views on voter ID?

The risk here is that Paul and his aides spend a lot of time “clarifying” his utterances, and he comes across as trying to pull a fast one on the voters. Since this is already happening when no other GOP contender is attacking him, one can only imagine how this will go in the heat of the campaign. The impression of inauthenticity is a deadly one in a presidential contest. Either Paul needs a script for every outing or he needs to figure out which Rand Paul is going to run for president. In any event, he has used up his quotient of clarifications.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.