One day into his presidential campaign, Rand Paul is building a reputation that could be hard to shake: When he’s confronted by reporters—especially women reporters—about things he doesn’t want to talk about, he gets antagonistic.
The latest example came during an appearance on NBC’s Today show Wednesday morning, when the Kentucky senator took offense with Savannah Guthrie’s line of questioning.
“You have had views on foreign policy that are somewhat unorthodox, but you seem to have changed over the years,” Guthrie said. “You once said Iran was not a threat. Now you say it is. You once proposed ending foreign aid to Israel. You now support it, at least for the time being. And you once offered to drastically cut defense spending but now you want to increase it by 60 percent”—here, Paul tries to interrupt but Guthrie continues—”Well, wait. Now you want to increase it. I just wonder if you’ve mellowed out.”
“Why don’t you let me explain instead of talking over me, OK?” Paul responded.
“Sure,” Guthrie said.
Paul then offered Guthrie some advice on how she should ask him questions. “Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on, why don’t you ask me a question: ‘Have I changed my opinion?’” he said.
“Have you changed your opinion?” Guthrie asks.
“That would be sort of a better way to approach it,” Paul said.
“OK, is Iran still a threat?” Guthrie pressed on.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Listen, you’ve editorialized,” Paul said. “Let me answer a question. You ask a question, and you say, ‘Have your views changed?’ instead of editorializing and saying my views have changed. OK, let’s start out with regard to foreign aid.”
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Paul said that he supports a gradual reduction of foreign aid to other countries and that he hasn’t proposed removing aid from Israel.”
“But you once did,” Guthrie said.
“But I still agree with my original precept, which is—let me answer the question,” Paul said. “I still agree with my original statement from years ago that, ultimately, all nations should be free of foreign aid because we shouldn’t borrow money to do it.”
Paul engaged in a similar on-air exchange with a reporter in February. When CNBC’s Kelly Evans asked him about his proposal for a tax incentive for U.S. companies to bring their overseas profits back to the United States, Paul became defensive.
“Senator, I’m sure you know that most of the research on this indicates that this actually costs more money over the long term than they save,” Evans said. “Are you saying your plan will be different?”
“That’s incorrect,” Paul said. “Let’s go back again. Your premise and your question is mistaken.”
In the same interview, the senator shushed Evans when she asked him about comments he made about vaccines, which he called “voluntary.”
“Let me finish. Hey, Kelly, shh,” Paul said. “Calm down a bit here, Kelly. Let me answer the question.”
In an interview with Sean Hannity last night, Paul said, “You should vaccinate your kids.” Also in that interview, Hannity asked Paul some uncomfortable questions, and the senator was careful not to interrupt him.
It’s not unusual for Republican politicians to blame the liberal media for “editorializing” or showing bias. Indeed, after the CNBC interview, Paul tweeted a photo of himself getting a shot, with the caption, “Wonder how the liberal media will misreport this?” But such confrontational interviews, from a public-relations perspective, are not a good look for any politician who’s playing the long game. As National Journal‘s Emma Roller wrote in February, “While voicing your disdain for the press is a tried-and-true strategy for sitting presidents, it can throw politicians seeking the Oval Office off course and off message, making them appear naval-gazing and defensive.”
Guthrie is only the first of many, many reporters on a very long campaign trail. Dodging questions is one thing. Berating reporters for asking them is another. While that strategy may energize your core base in the short term, it could wind up cementing a long-lasting image of a candidate who’s quick to shout down tough questions.