Presidential candidates generally want to get their national campaigns off on the right foot. The White House hopefuls and their teams take weeks, if not months, planning their introduction to the country, realizing that they don’t get a second chance at a first impression.
So, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), how was your first day running to be the next leader of the free world?
Rand Paul and Debbie Wasserman Schultz spent the Kentucky senator’s first day on the presidential campaign trail fighting about abortion.Early Wednesday, Paul refused to tell the Associated Press whether he would support exceptions for abortions in instances of rape, incest or if the birth of a child would risk the mother’s life.
The Republican senator managed to generate quite a bit of conversation about his new candidacy yesterday, with much of the focus on Paul’s combative and argumentative responses to journalists’ questions. Around this time yesterday, the Kentucky lawmaker was rude towards NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, effectively telling her how he’d like to be interviewed, and a few hours later, he grew “testy” with an Associated Press reporter, telling him what to publish.
While I have no doubt that media professionals can handle pushback from an intemperate politician, all of this matters in an electoral context because it speaks to Rand Paul’s temperament – if the guy bristles at fair questions on his first day as a candidate, he’s not only going to lose, he’s also going to be miserable for the next several months.
He’s long been thin-skinned and easily irritated by reporters who dared to ask questions he disapproves of, and Rand Paul acknowledged his “short-tempered” tendencies yesterday. That’s not a sustainable character trait in a competitive presidential campaign.
But as the fight over abortion policy also made clear yesterday, the senator’s troubles are not limited to style. They’re also substantive.
The AP, for example, asked the candidate to specify what kind of exemptions, if any, he’d support to his proposed abortion restrictions.
“The thing is about abortion – and about a lot of things – is that I think people get tied up in all these details of, sort of, you’re this or this or that, or you’re hard and fast (on) one thing or the other,” Paul replied.
That’s not much of an answer, and when pressed for substantive details, Paul quickly became irritable and wouldn’t answer. Hours later, Wolf Blitzer asked the senator whether he’d support rape and incest exemptions. Paul wouldn’t give a straight answer to him, either.
As the day progressed, the senator, instead of sticking to his campaign message, found himself in a long-distance argument with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz about abortion.
“Why don’t we ask the DNC: Is it OK to kill a 7-pound baby in the uterus?” he told reporters in New Hampshire. “You go back and go ask [DNC chair] Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she’s OK with killing a 7-pound baby that’s just not born yet,” Paul told reporters. “Ask her when life begins, and ask Debbie when she’s willing to protect life. When you get an answer from Debbie, come back to me.”
Wasserman Schultz, no doubt enjoying the fact that she could so easily knock a presidential candidate off his game, responded in a statement, “Here’s an answer: I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul. We know you want to allow government officials like yourself to make this decision for women – but do you stand by your opposition to any exceptions, even when it comes to rape, incest, or life of the mother? Or do we just have different definitions of ‘personal liberty’?”
She added, referencing this incident from February, “And I’d appreciate it if you could respond without ‘shushing’ me.”
It’s hard to say at this point how all of this is playing with Republican voters who’ll decide Paul’s fate. Maybe they’re looking for an inexperienced conspiracy theorist who avoids policy details and describes himself as “short-tempered.” Perhaps Team Paul saw yesterday’s rollout as a sterling success and it was delighted the candidate spent the day talking about abortion and his irritability.
But I have a hunch this wasn’t the original game plan.