The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rand Paul’s problem with female interviewers just cropped up again

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went on the "Today" show this morning to tout his just-announced presidential bid. But things didn't go so well.

"Today" host Savannah Guthrie began by asking Paul a question about the criticism leveled by some that he has changed his positions on a variety of issues -- from Israel to defense spending. It's a perfectly fair question and one that is central to Paul's challenge in the race: Can he, an avowed libertarian, find a way to shift enough in his views to appeal to more mainstream conservative voters?

But before Guthrie even gets halfway through the question, Paul begins to interrupt her. "Before we we go ... before we go ... before we go through a litany," he says, repeatedly talking over Guthrie.

Then Paul says: "Why don't we let me explain instead of talking over me?" (Worth noting: Watch the clip above. It's pretty clear who's talking over whom.) "Why don't you ask me a question of whether I have changed my opinion," Paul scolds Guthrie, adding: "You've editorialized."

Later, as Guthrie tries to clarify Paul's position on aid to Israel, he tells her, "let me answer the question."

This isn't the first time Paul has had a run-in with a female reporter this year. In an interview with CNBC's Kelly Evans in early February, Paul shushed Evans and told her to "calm down a bit."

In the wake of that interview, Paul was unapologetic -- insisting that he was simply speaking truth to a resistant media. "I think if you're forthright and answer a lot of questions, sometimes you'll get people who won't let you answer the questions and that makes for a difficult answer," Paul told CNN.

[Rand Paul has a victim complex]

Okay, sure. But at some level, these two episodes suggest that Paul seems to misunderstand the nature of running for president. It is not a college lecture class where you talk and other people listen and take notes. It is an active back and forth between the candidate, voters and, yes, the media. And, that means that sometimes you get asked things you think are (a) stupid, (b) unfair or, often, both.

But as we noted when we wrote about Scott Walker's terrible answer on a question about President Obama's Christianity, the goal of a candidate for president is to be a candidate for president, not a media critic. Don't like the question? Choose not to answer it diplomatically rather than being openly dismissive (Paul) or launching into some broad riff on the problems of the press (Walker).

In an interview with Howard Kurtz on Fox News Channel's "Media Buzz", Paul addressed the "shushing" incident. "I did learn you're not supposed to shush people," he told Kurtz, adding later: "I'm human. I get mad sometimes. And I try to be as even keeled as I can, but sometimes like everybody else, there are interviews that I would have done differently."

Paul's interviewing problem is made worse by the fact he has now been seen mansplaining to two well-respected female reporters. That, of course, could simply be coincidence: I've not watched every somewhat-contentious Rand Paul interview this year to see whether female reporters are involved more often than men. But that the two high-profile incidents this year have happened with women does not help Paul.

The perception of Paul as not only resistant to tough questions but mocking and dismissive of them is not a good one. At all. Paul needs to understand that the political campaign he has just embarked on is a very different thing than his 2010 Senate campaign in Kentucky. The level of scrutiny, the number of people always watching and the hurdles of credibility are all much, much higher. Coming across as thin-skinned when faced with the gentlest of "tough" questions isn't a very encouraging development for those who would like to see Paul emerge as the GOP's standard-bearer sometime next year.