Nearly two weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) decided to go after former President Bill Clinton, focusing on the Lewinsky affair from 19 years ago. The former president, Paul said, was guilty of “predatory behavior.” He added that this would be relevant if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016 because “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”
Asked later about the comments, Paul suggested that Clinton isn’t really on his mind. “It’s not as if I’m bringing this up 20 years later. I was asked a direct question,” the Kentucky senator said. “However, if I’m asked a direct question, I’ll usually answer it.”
For a guy who only mentioned Clinton because he was “asked a direct question,” Rand Paul seems oddly preoccupied with the former president.
The senator’s original criticism came on “Meet the Press” on Jan. 26. Paul then took another rhetorical shot at Clinton on Jan. 28. And then another on Jan. 29. And then another on Feb. 5. And then again later on Feb. 5.
This morning, there was the Kentucky Republican, once again talking about the subject he only reluctantly broached in the first place.
“[Democrats] can’t have it both ways,” Paul said on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” set to air Sunday.“And so I really think that anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I think they should give the money back,” Paul said. “If they want to take position on women’s rights, by all means do. But you can’t do it and take it from a guy who was using his position of authority to take advantage of young women in the workplace.”
This is getting a little weird.
To reiterate a point from last week, much of this likely has to do with 2016 and Paul’s concern that Bill Clinton remains a very popular national figure. Indeed, even Republicans who hated Clinton with a passion during his time in office – up to and including impeaching him – have since decided he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Robert Schlesinger labeled the phenomenon “Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome.”
The senator is no doubt aware of this, all while remaining cognizant of the fact that Hillary Clinton is a possible candidate. The calculus isn’t subtle: Rand Paul is probably worried that Clinton nostalgia will make the former Secretary of State that much more difficult to defeat. As a consequence, he’s become oddly preoccupied with a sex scandal from the mid-90s, which the American mainstream has long since given up caring about.
But I also wonder if there’s a touch of defensiveness lurking just below the surface. After all, Paul not only supports government intervention in restricting reproductive rights, he’s also voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Violence Against Women Act, while voting for the Blunt Amendment on contraception.
With a record like that, the senator may be understandably concerned about alienating women voters. I’m not a political strategist, but I don’t imagine constant complaining about Bill Clinton will address Paul’s underlying trouble.