The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rand Paul talks a lot — probably too much for his own good

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is everywhere these days. And arguably nobody has crafted such a big profile in his first four years in the Senate. He gives what seems to be a speech a day, is on TV all the time, and isn't shy about talking to reporters. The summation is lots of Rand Paul being on the record.

The flipside of that, of course, is that there is lots of Rand Paul being on the record for people like us (ink-stained wretches that we are) to parse. And parse we will.

Over just the past few days, several stories have detailed the inconsistencies and take-backs contained in Paul's public record. Here's our David Farenthold:

Sen. Rand Paul wanted to eliminate aid to Israel. Now he doesn’t. He wanted to scrap the Medicare system. Now he’s not sure.
He didn’t like the idea of a border fence — it was expensive, and it reminded him of the Berlin Wall. Now he wants two fences, one behind the other.
And what about same-sex marriage? Paul’s position — such marriages are morally wrong, but Republicans should stop obsessing about them — seems so muddled that an Iowa pastor recently confronted him in frustration.

Yahoo's Chris Moody offered a similar take, and the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis summarized both pieces thusly:

Both do a very good job of documenting Paul’s changing positions, but neither fully captures the frustration that comes from dealing with someone who refuses to play by the agreed upon rules of logic, rhetoric, and discourse that keeps society from descending into chaos.


Perhaps nothing captures this phenomenon more than a recent flap over Paul and his comments on executive orders. Paul told a crowd in New Hampshire a few days ago that, as president, he would repeal all executive orders that are currently on the books — i.e. more than 200 years' worth.

"I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders," Paul said, drawing big cheers, according to Breitbart.

That's understandably a popular position in today's Republican Party, given the base's unhappiness with President Obama's supposed abuse of executive power. One problem: There are lots of executive orders, pre-Obama, that are really popular. Take the Emancipation Proclamation, for instance. That's a pretty good one.

Paul's office quickly clarified that the senator wasn't being literal. But Paul himself didn't seem to know that. The morning after making the comment, Real Clear Politics' Scott Conroy asked Paul whether he was serious, and Paul appeared to suggest that he was pretty serious (emphasis ours):

"It’s a nice idea,” Paul said. “You would obviously have to look at all of the executive orders to see that there’s not something in there. But the thing is, you could sunset them all and really repeal them all, and then you could start over. And if there are any ones that are good, you could re-institute things or ask Congress to re-institute things that need to be done.”

When Conroy pointed out that this would mean (at least temporarily) nixing the Emancipation Proclamation and, to cite another example, the desegregation of the military, Paul seemed to backtrack.

“Well, I mean, I think those are good points, and it was an offhand comment, so obviously, I don’t want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation and things like that,” Paul said. “Technically, you'd have to look and see exactly what that would mean, but the bottom line is it’s a generalized statement that I think too much is done by executive order, particularly under this president. Too much power has gravitated to the executive."

Paul effectively talked himself into a corner on this one. He got the big applause line for saying he would repeal all executive orders, but it's pretty clear he didn't really think through that statement. Even if we grant that he wasn't being literal — and again, that's hard to stomach given his initial comments to Conroy — he probably should be a little more exacting with his language. Words matter, and a president, after all, will see his or her comments parsed to no end.

In the near term, Paul's comments will be, too. That's because there are lots of journalists covering him and there will be more  as the 2016 presidential campaign takes off. And, as the stories above show, there is plenty of consternation among political journalists when it comes to Paul's consistency — or lack thereof. (This dates back to the repeated instances of apparent plagiarism in Paul's 2013 book — which Paul seemed to brush off and blame "haters" in the media and elsewhere, even when it was pretty clear what had transpired.)

The vast majority of politicians are extremely careful about every public word they utter. Paul is considerably less so. That should be refreshing from a politician, and we're sure lots of people think it is. It's part of his brand.

But it can also come back to bite you, and anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. If Paul can't recognize that, he's going to have a really tough time as a presidential candidate.