Sen., Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks to employees during a visit to Dyn, an internet performance company, Friday, March 20, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in Manchester, N.H., in March. (Jim Cole/Associated Press)

A few months back, some pundits suggested that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker should be disqualified from running for president because he refused to denounce former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remarks that President Obama did not love America. I thought that unfair and one-sided. (Maybe any Democrat who doesn’t denounce the Clintons’ shenanigans should be booted from races?) But there are two candidates who have demonstrated such gross irresponsibility and lack of character that it is hard to argue they deserve to hold any office, let alone the presidency.

No matter how well or poorly prepared candidates may be, there is no justification for an elected leader who acts recklessly on national security, beginning with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Not only has he demagogued the National Security Agency issue and misled the country as to what it does and does not do, but he also forced the program to lapse even knowing he lost the battle to discontinue it. He would put the country as risk to score political points for a losing — and disreputable — cause. To top it off, he accused Republicans of secretly wishing for an attack on the United States to discredit him. He has already discredited himself, and his vile rhetoric recalls the many attacks from the White House on the motives of its adversaries. Coming on the heels of his claim that Republicans are responsible for the Islamic State, one must conclude that Paul’s hatred of political adversaries in his own party not only outweighs his distaste for our enemies but also has entirely clouded his judgment. One has to question why the people of Kentucky, if and when Paul loses the presidential race, would think such a misguided and divisive character should represent his state. I cannot think of a bigger contribution (other than electing a responsible commander in chief) to the cause of national security than finding a more serious junior senator for that state. To their credit, Jeb Bush defended the NSA program on Sunday and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put out an irate statement: “After tonight there is no guarantee that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies will have all the tools they need to protect the American people in the face of a growing terrorist threat. Allowing any of these programs to expire is a mistake, but that’s what is happening as a consequence of the reckless spreading of misinformation and political posturing.‎ Our country is now poised to be less safe and Americans at greater risk from growing terrorist threats.”

On the night the Patriot Act expired, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) equated the collecting of Americans' phone records to "what we fought the revolution over." (Senator Rand Paul/YouTube)

Now, those senators and congressmen who are determined to make metadata collection more difficult by relying on phone companies to keep the information were bad enough. As former CIA chief Michael Hayden, a retired general, put it on Sunday,  giving the phone companies the task “is the best political solution out there right now. It is not the best operational solution because if it were, this is how we would have organized the thing in the first place.” He explained that “we’re going to take a bit of a leap of faith with the USA Freedom Act, that the telecoms will be able to keep the data, that they will keep it because they’re not required by law to keep it, and they’ll keep it long enough, and none of them keep it as long as NSA keeps it, and that we’ll be able to query the database across multiple entities with an effectiveness and accuracy that matches what it is we can do now against a single database. So, if you’re asking me in a perfect world, what would I do, I’d reauthorize the Patriot Act.” Those senators, including Republicans Mike Lee (Utah) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), who championed the USA Freedom Act may look good in comparison with Paul, but they are not heroes. If one is seeking to be commander in chief, as Cruz is, being “not as bad as Rand Paul” is hardly sufficient. (Continuing to insist on the unworkable and discredited “air only” campaign against the Islamic State is strike two against the junior senator.)

Then there are the constitutional nihilists. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee advocates ignoring the Supreme Court if it rules that gays have a 14th Amendment right to marry. Having declared in advance he won’t be constrained by the Supreme Court and will encourage others to defy it, he suggests he’d been even more lawless than the current president. He therefore ceases to be a serious and respectable contender.

But what about former senator Rick Santorum? His rhetoric on gay rights and marriage has been at times extreme and mean-spirited, but did he go as far as Huckabee? Not quite. On Sunday there was this exchange:

FMR. SENATOR RICK SANTORUM:

Well, I think the Supreme Court has, as an equal branch of government, the ability to overrule Congress and the president. They do it all the time. But I also feel it’s the role of the Congress and the president to push back. I mean I think it’s important that they are understood as equal branches of government.

And I’ve done it before. I mean we had a situation when I was in the Senator where the Supreme Court ruled a bill unconstitutional, and we went back and passed another bill almost identical, made the case that the court got it wrong, and passed it. And the court reversed its opinion. So I think it’s important to understand that the Supreme Court doesn’t have the final word. It has its word. Its word has validity. But it’s important for Congress and the president, frankly, to push back when the Supreme Court gets it wrong.

CHUCK TODD:

So will you accept the Supreme Court ruling, if they legalize same-sex marriage for the entire country, do you accept that ruling or do you fight it?

FMR. SENATOR RICK SANTORUM:

Well, of course I’d fight it. Roe versus Wade was decided 30 some years ago, and I continue to fight that, because I think the court got it wrong. And I think if the court decides this case in error, I will continue to fight, as we have on the issue of life. And that’s the role of the citizenry. We’re not bound by what nine people say in perpetuity. We have an obligation and a right in a free society to push back and get our Congress and our president and rally the American public to overturn what the court wants to do

CHUCK TODD:

But you’re not advocating what Mike Huckabee is advocating in having states ignore the law, ignore the ruling?

FMR. SENATOR RICK SANTORUM:

I don’t advocate civil disobedience. I do advocate the role of an informed citizen to try to overturn when a court makes a mistake and gets an issue wrong.

So we should be thankful he’s not advocating lawlessness, but his obsession with an issue that has clearly been lost in the court of public opinion — banning gay marriage — is nevertheless disturbing and raises a question as to whether he understands the country he wants to lead. Where would the votes for a constitutional amendment come from? Where is the consensus to turn back the clock? Unlike abortion, on which the pro-life community has made strides in highlighting the humanity of the unborn child, the anti-gay marriage crowd has been spectacularly unsuccessful in convincing people younger than 30 (and a great many older than 30) that we should prohibit (or undo) gay marriage. It perhaps is only because Huckabee’s view is so much more extreme that Santorum looks reasonable by comparison. But here, too, being “not as bad” as a really unacceptable figure does not commend one to the presidency.