Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) desperately wants to be taken seriously and compete for the presidency. But he is hampered by a sort of cluelessness that comes, I suspect, from trusting too few advisers and from a total lack of familiarity with the attitudes of those outside his narrow band of quasi-libertarianism.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (James Crisp/Associated Press) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (James Crisp/Associated Press)

For starters, he doesn’t offer much to the pool of libertarians purportedly yearning to be Republicans. He voted against immigration reform. He voted against cloture on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Where is the appeal to those socially libertarian, tolerant young people? He will argue the specifics of those measures aren’t to his liking. He might even argue, as he did but would like us to forget, that he doesn’t think private property owners should be prohibited from discriminating. But in the end, an anti-immigration reform, anti-gay employment protection senator is no different than a host of other Republicans who turn off a segment of the electorate.

But then consider his series of  bellyflops, suggesting he doesn’t understand the beliefs and standards other politicians must grasp.

He has been accused of multiple instances of plagiarism — in speeches, in his book and in op-eds. He graduated from medical school and has lived in a world in which there have been scandals involving much lesser instances of plagiarism than his. If he were a journalist, any reputable publication would have fired him long ago. So does he have no sense of what is acceptable, doesn’t think rules apply to him or has an incredibly sloppy staff that cuts and pastes material for him?

He hired the “Southern Avenger,” who advocated bizarre pro-Confederate sentiments. No other lawmaker would, I am certain, knowingly hire such a character. But Paul got huffy when confronted with the hiring. Only reluctantly did the Southern Avenger depart. Again, does Paul have no sense of what is acceptable, doesn’t think standards apply to him or does he have ineffective staff that can’t spot trouble?

Paul is not just out to lunch when it comes to appropriating other people’s writing or hiring cranks. Consider:

– He went to Heritage Foundation to convince conservatives he was serious about foreign policy, but he defended containment of a nuclear-armed Iran. Not even Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) believes that is rational.

– He went to Howard University to convince African Americans he was a different kind of Republican, but wound up lecturing them about how good Republicans had been to African Americans in the past and presenting a “you’re on you own” economic vision that has zero appeal to these voters.

– He went to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to argue against help for the non-jihadi Syrian rebels, but wound up arguing Bashar al-Assad is good for Christians.

There is no internal radar nor staff safety net that prevents him from these repeated missteps. If he should run for president, the media attention and competition from other Republicans would be brutal. If his political antennae are defective and his knowledge spotty, maybe he should get people around him who know better. Then again, perhaps he should just run as who he is and let voters decide for themselves.