Rand Paul keeps attacking Bill Clinton. Why?

During a taped interview set to run Sunday on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul hit Bill Clinton for his sexual indiscretions. Again.


U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to members of the media after an East Room event that President Barack Obama announced San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma as "Promise Zones" January 9, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Here's the critical piece of what Paul told C-SPAN's Steve Scully:

The Democrats can't say, 'We're the great defenders of women's rights in the workplace and we will defend you against some kind of abusive boss that uses their position of authority to take advantage of a young women' when the leader of their party, the leading fundraiser in the country, is Bill Clinton, who was a perpetrator of that kind of sexual harassment. Anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do.

You can watch Paul's comments, which include a shot at Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), below.

Paul is making a habit of savaging Clinton's behavior of late.

On Thursday in an interview with NewsMax TV when asked about Clinton, Paul had this to say: "Yeah, I mean, a predator -- a sexual predator, basically. Repetitive. There's ... at least a half a dozen public women who have come forward. Some of them did sue in the (workplace)." And, back in late January during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Paul told host David Gregory: "There is no excuse for that and that is predatory behavior and it should be something, we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office.”

What gives?  We put that question to a handful of Republican strategists -- both those in the Paul orbit and those outside of it.  Here's the responses we got to explain Paul's repeated hits on Clinton.

1. It revs up the base.  Bill Clinton's popularity may be at record levels but he remains someone that Republicans don't love.  In a Gallup survey conducted in July 2012 that showed Clinton's favorable rating at 66 percent among the general public, a majority of Republicans  (50 percent) had an unfavorable opinion of him. While Clinton is not as reviled as he once was by Republicans, if his wife runs for president in 2016, that old dislike will surge back -- and Paul's comments will endear him to a certain critical faction of the Republican base (read: social conservatives).

2. It's a way to get at Hillary. Paul, like everyone else with a brain, knows that Hillary Clinton is as strong a frontrunner for their nomination as Democrats have had for three decades and that the effort to define her in a more negative light than the public currently views her needs to start now.  Check out these quotes from Paul's NewsMax interview: "What if that unsavory character is your husband? What if that unsavory character is Bill Clinton raising money for people across the country, and what if he were someone that was guilty of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior at the workplace -- which, obviously, having sex with an intern at the office is inappropriate by any standard."  There's not a whole of subtlety in those comments.

3. It's who Rand is.  As we saw demonstrated during his 2010 Senate campaign -- and, in particular, his answer(s) regarding the rightness of the Civil Rights Act -- Rand Paul is not someone who backs down from an argument easily or quickly. When asked a question -- and his responses on Clinton in the NewsMax and C-SPAN interviews were prompted by questions from the anchors -- Paul answers it, no matter whether or not he thinks it might cause some political controversy.  He quite clearly prides himself on his willingness to defend positions and argue cases that many other politicians -- Republican and Democrat -- simply won't.

4. It's personal. It's easy to assume that any time a politician says or does something more than once, he/she has a grand strategy behind it.  In truth, that's often not the case. One Paul ally admitted not really understanding the Senator's repeated emphasis on Clinton's past behavior. It's uniquely possible then that Paul simply doesn't like Clinton and in his heart of hearts believes the former president was let off too easy for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Whatever the reason for Paul's focus on Clinton's private life, it's a reminder (although we didn't need one) that the Kentucky Senator operates under a different code of conduct than his colleagues and the people he will compete against for the 2016 nomination. It's what makes him intriguing -- and dangerous.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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